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.