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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Just Taste the Good Food at Carrots

March 01, 1991|LAURIE OCHOA and * Carrots, 2834 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (213) 453-6505. Entrees $12.50-$20.50. and

L.A.'s best new restaurant is not in a million-dollar architectural space. It is not in a "hot" location. It does not have important artists' work on the walls. It does not have an Armani-suited maitre d' to sneer at your year-old Walter Steiger flats.

Carrots is in a Santa Monica Boulevard strip mall--the best table offers a view of the doughnut shop cater-corner to the restaurant. And it is the food, for the most part carrot-free, that makes this modest storefront an important restaurant.

The chef, Fred Iwasaki, comes from Wolfgang Puck's Chinois and Spago. What he's cooking now is good Asian- and French-influenced food: rare-cooked beef tossed with enoki and kaiware in a fried potato basket; lobster and black mussels in an earthy black bean sauce smoothed with butter; tender lamb chops in a cool cucumber-garlic sauce; his own fruit-intense ice cream and sorbets.

Near the end of the night, Iwasaki came out from the open kitchen area. A woman at the next table asked him, "Why Carrots? It sounds like a health food place."

The chef smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know," he said. "My wife likes carrots, so I said, OK."

Sometimes the only thing that matters is what's on your plate.

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