When it first burst onto the scene, California Cuisine allowed local kitchens to declare their independence from European domination. Created by young American chefs, California Cuisine emphasized food that is fresh, grilled and served sans sauce. Menus tend to go heavy on the pastas and salads. All prices exclude drinks.
ANGEL CITY GRILL (7505 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood (213) 655-0955). You may think of Fred Astaire and spinach salad, Ginger Rogers and pizza with spicy shrimp, Hermes Pan and burnt creme brulee when you visit this restaurant. Why? The Angel City Grill is another post-modern evocation of a movie musical past, shaken (not stirred) with a dash of California cuisine. The color scheme is pink, black and gray. While quarters may be cramped, the menu is versatile: Caesar salads, designer pizzas and hamburgers, pasta, seafood pancakes, lots of freshly grilled fish and iconic desserts. Open for dinner nightly, lunch on weekends. Major credit cards. Valet parking. Dinner for two: $15-$55.
BISTRO PATISSIER (626 N. Central Ave., Glendale, (818) 240-4588). Peruse the menu at this restaurant, formerly called Reflections, and you'll soon know what trendy dishes "real" people are willing to eat. The menu is a winnowing of dishes that sound "in" but are sufficiently down to earth to appeal to the salad bar set. Those that have made the cut include pizza, freshly made pasta, Sonoma chickens, baby vegetables and Cajun blackened meat and fish. There are Buffalo chicken wings to start with and a variety of pastries to end with. Mesquite grilling, an open kitchen, a garden room with large, greenery-filled windows and a young, determined crew add up to a pleasant place to eat. Open for all meals daily. Reservations advised. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $25-$40.
PHILIPPE PHILIPPE (11500 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (213) 820-1476). The dungeon that housed Gatsby's has been transformed into an open room filled with soft colors, plushy banquettes and the sort of gentle lighting that makes everybody look pretty. Not, however, as pretty as the plates that come from the kitchen, such as sandwiches of grilled eggplant filled with cucumber, yogurt and feta cheese, or an entree of veal chop laid against a swirled pattern of pureed red and yellow peppers, prettier than any birthday cake. There are also many offbeat dishes, such as grapefruit gravlax and breast of duck with strawberry and endive. Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch and dinner, for dinner only Sat. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $60.
PREZZO (13625 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 905-8400). This is a "Miami Vice" kind of place--stark and open, all cool grays and violets with decorative slashes of magenta neon here and there and a constant undercurrent of rock music. The staff is friendly, healthy and frequently gorgeous, as is the food, which includes home-made pastas, pizzas, fresh fish (such as sauteed scampi in a garlic sauce) and veal dishes, including a veal T-bone grilled with fresh rosemary. An appetizer of sauteed eggplant layered with mozzarella is bathed in a fresh-looking marinara sauce, which is delicious, light, and tastes as fresh as it looks. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sun. Dinner for two: $40-$70.
PRINCESS RESTAURANT (Alicante Princess Hotel, 100 Plaza Alicante, Garden Grove, (714) 971-3000). This restaurant-in-a-hotel is a quiet sort of place. Indeed, it is a musical lounge with a little jazz group on the weekends. The best appetizer is really something, a tasty French-style fresh sausage with a mild duck flavor. The easy winner among the entrees is lobster with herb garlic butter and broad noodles ( pappardelle ). There are usually two good steaks too--one is a filet with Maui onion marmalade, the other with fresh horseradish and hickory-smoked bacon sauce. Open for dinner Tue.-Sat. (Later next month, it will be open for lunch Tue.-Fri.) Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $55-$60.
TRADER VIC'S (Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 276-6345). The original California restaurant has recently been renovated, resulting in an exceedingly tactful toning down of the original exuberance. The new look is more sedate with coral, ship models, more beams than tapa cloth, more nautical than islandy--and the canoes are polished. The new menu still offers the familiar choices--the pake (sort of South-Sea Cantonese), the Chinese BBQ ovens, curries, seafood, appetizers (such as deep fried calamari and crackly Parmesan wafers) that could make a meal. The best dishes come out of the ovens, including Indonesian lamb roast, salmon, and whitefish. Open for dinner nightly. Valet parking. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $60-$90.