Of all the restaurants in Los Angeles, Patina is the one that would be least embarrassed if it woke up one morning and found itself in France. It is, despite its white walls, modern sconces and cool contemporary airs, an exceedingly proper restaurant.
You sense this immediately; the service is absolutely comme il faut. Is your ice melting in your ice tea? The waiter will wordlessly replace it. Do you need more bread? Here's the busboy at your elbow. The glasses are so thin they seem to float into your hands, and the plates were made just for these tables. The cutlery is heavy, the napkins are, too, and the single stem on your table is absolutely elegant.
As is the food: Joachim Splichal and his wife, Christine, have created a perfect setting for his state-of-the-art French cooking. Some of this food is inspired: Try the brilliant lasagna made of \o7 polenta\f7 , salmon and parsley. Don't miss the exquisite \o7 salade nicoise. \f7 The rare tuna with \o7 ponzu \f7 sauce is a wonderful dish, and the \o7 creme brulee \f7 with corn is so good you wonder why you've never eaten it before.
As good as Patina is, the food here occasionally lacks \o7 elan\f7 . This is a restaurant to which I'd invariably send proper people who care deeply about both food and service. But for those who want to be thrilled by a meal (and who might not mind a little noise, a little wait), Citrus is the place.
\o7 5955 Melrose Ave.; (213) 467-1108\f7 . \o7 Entrees from $19.50 to $23.50.\f7
When Trumps first opened, I thought it was Los Angeles gone mad--all white, all concrete, all noise, all flash. And the menu seemed like something of a joke. Were they seriously intending to serve caviar on top of plantains and black beans?
It soon became clear that Trumps would have the last laugh. The restaurant was extremely serious about everything, except those concrete seats. It dumped them, but not much else has changed. It is still modern, still white, still objectionably noisy. And the plantains and caviar are still on the menu.
For good reason: They're delicious. So are all of Michael Roberts' seemingly outrageous combinations. Roast duck with black beans and pickled pumpkin? Superb. Chicken with candied lemon? An inspiration. Even the silly sounding Brie and grape \o7 quesadilla \f7 with sweet-pea guacamole turns out to be solidly delicious.
Beware of Trumps imitations--too many chefs without Roberts' skill have taken outrageousness to heart. It's a pity more don't follow another of his creative (and more easily cloned) leads: serving a wonderful afternoon tea.
\o7 8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (213) 855-1480. Entrees from $16 to $28. \f7 MUSSO AND FRANK GRILL
Nobody could call the food at Musso's great--but to me this is still a great restaurant. Ask me if I want to eat there, and I'll always say yes.
I love the way it looks. The front room is filled with people huddled comfortably in dark wooden booths. Along one wall runs a counter where men have earnest conversations as they watch a cook fling huge chunks of meat onto a charcoal grill. The back room is brighter and filled with people who look happy to be there. And everywhere, waiters scurry about, serving great martinis and pretty good prime rib (my usual choice) and sea bass and a lot of other things that you probably don't want to eat (like Welsh rabbit or creamed spinach that tastes mostly like nutmeg).
I love the way Musso's feels, too. It's the sort of place where people waiting at the bar will turn and talk to one another. It hasn't changed much in 71 years; it has always been a restaurant where people feel comfortable. Is it any wonder that this is \o7 the\f7 bar and grill that half the other restaurants in town wish they could be?
\o7 6667 Hollywood Blvd.; (213) 467-5123. Entrees from $6.55 to $31.45. \f7 PAZZIA
I know that the fact that I'm including Pazzia and not Mauro Vincenti's other place--his big-deal downtown Rex--is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. Rex is undoubtedly the most beautiful restaurant in Los Angeles. It has the most amazing tables, the most extraordinary silverware, the clearest crystal--and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the least-interesting menus in town. Once I get past the first courses, I can never find anything I want to eat.
Pazzia is different: At Pazzia I always want to eat everything on the menu. I never know whether to start with the \o7 pappa al pomodoro \f7 or that amazing salad of pears, Cacciota and walnuts. There's wonderful risotto. Terrific pizzas. And the pasta is always impeccable.
I like the main courses as well: Something as simple as the lamb chops with thyme, artichoke and eggplant can make me perfectly happy. Give me some \o7 gelati\f7 to end the meal and I'm a happy woman.
The place is pretty, too. It's not Rex--but it's by far the most dignified and modern of the small Italian restaurants in town. So I'm sorry: If you want to go to Rex and spend hundreds of dollars, be my guest. I'll be far happier spending far less at Pazzia.