I wish Tulipe were a little less loud. It would be nice if the tables had a little more space between them, too. And if the lights were just low enough to give the room some romance, this would be the perfect little French restaurant.
As it is, it's practically perfect. This is a wonderful modern bistro, serving true French food at its robust best--fully flavored, gutsy, fun to eat. It is French food that, unlike much of what is served in town, has not been California-ized into something pretty, small and delicate. This is also, it must be added, French food that you can afford (a couple can easily get out the door for $50).
My favorite dishes are the ones with the most intense flavors. A tart made of pears and Roquefort cheese. An occasional special appetizer made of pig's trotters and snails fashioned into a most elegant little dish (a friend said it was the best thing she'd ever tasted--before she found out what it was). A whole lamb's shank. A \o7 pot\f7 -\o7 au\f7 -\o7 feu \f7 made of pigeon. Striped bass served in a sliced-potato coat. And be sure not to miss the city's best apple tart.
There's one more wonderful thing about Tulipe: It has one of the nicest little wine lists in town, filled with interesting, moderately priced wines from small producers.
Oh, if only the lights were a little bit lower. . . .
\o7 8360 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (213) 655-7400. Entrees from $14.50 to $22. \f7 LOCANDA VENETA
My husband tried to bribe me into not writing about Locanda Veneta.
He argued that it was the perfect cozy little Italian restaurant with good food and reasonable prices that everybody in Los Angeles was dying to discover.
He was right: The only way we've managed to get in since is by reserving a table weeks in advance.
When we do go, we tend to order the same things. We start with a pile of fried whitebait with onion marmalade, homemade white cheese with prosciutto or \o7 insalata di radicchio. \f7 Then we have a simple pasta--maybe just spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce. Occasionally we'll splurge on the Venetian seafood soup (chef Antonio Tommasi is from the Veneto) or a piece of grilled meat.
And then, when we think about dessert, we look at all the people waiting for our table (the restaurant is really small) and decide to take pity on them and leave. Invariably, as we pay the bill, we wonder why more people don't open restaurants just like this one.
\o7 8638 W\f7 .\o7 3rd St. (213) 274-1893; Entrees from $13.95 to $18.\f7
RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE
If you're American (and not vegetarian), you probably get a craving for steak every once in a while.
When I do, this is where I come.
Ruth's Chris (the name, if you need to know, came about when a woman named Ruth bought the Chris Steak House in New Orleans, added her own name and franchised the concept) looks the way a steak place should. Dark. Down-to-earth. Serious.
The portions look the way they should, too. They're huge. Especially the porterhouse, which is big enough to serve 2, 3 or 4. That's the cut to have: I'm convinced that steak that comes to the table still attached to its bones tastes best. Besides, there is nothing quite as satisfying as gnawing on a bone at the end of a meal. Potatoes come in seven varieties, and all of them are good. So are the onion rings; grown men have been known to squabble over the last one left on the plate.
The desserts here pay homage to New Orleans: If you are still able to eat when you come to the end of your steak, order the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. And then hum a few bars of the "Star Spangled Banner" as you stagger out the door.
\o7 224 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (213) 859-8744. Entrees from $17 to $22.\f7
"I hate the place," said a friend one day. "They're always mean to me. The food's expensive. And it's not very good."
"Want to have lunch at The Ivy?" I asked the next day.
"What time?" she replied.
The Ivy is the restaurant that everybody loves to hate. My files are groaning with letters from people complaining about how badly they've been treated and promising never to again darken the restaurant's door. And I'll bet that every one of the writers has gone back for more.
There is something seductive about The Ivy. It's cozy and pretty, with the air of an inn in the south of France. It has a certain buzz, too. And in the end, the food is really very good. What it serves are new American classics--great cracked-crab salad, big plates of pasta, lime-grilled chicken, crab cakes. It's a simple menu but a satisfying one. And after you've watched your weight and eaten something clean and fat-free for your main course, you can indulge in one of the delightful desserts.
They might ask you to hurry up and drink your coffee (they've done it to me). You'll be momentarily annoyed. But you'll be back.
\o7 113 N. Robertson Blvd.; (213) 274-8303. Entrees from $19.75 to $27.75. \f7 PATINA