Trendy? This year we got the new Mortons (bigger, but definitely not better), with Drai's in the old l'Ermitage space beginning to edge it out as the place to be seen. Eclipse, which took over Mortons' old corner, is definitely a hot reservation. What is the draw? Maybe people want to eat in the same room with superagent Michael Ovitz. Maybe it's been so long since something truly exceptional opened that people think this must be the place.
The low point of the year was the call I received a few days after the Simpson-Goldman murders. The publicist for Mezzaluna, the Brentwood Italian restaurant that figures so prominently in the sorry story, called to suggest the time might be ripe for a review. I passed.
All in all, it has been a cautious year, not only economically, but creatively, too. How long can chefs keep cooking the same dishes over and over? And how long can we keep eating them? Tuna tartare, smoked salmon, pizza, Caesar salad, chopped vegetable salad, angel hair pasta, seared ahi tuna, grilled chicken or the ubiquitous Chilean sea bass, \o7 creme brulee\f7 , \o7 tiramisu\f7 . . . . It's no wonder cooks are asleep at the stove. With menus this monotonous, I suspect enthusiastic young chefs are ready to fall on their knives.
The best openings of the year came from old Los Angeles hands--Vincenti (Alto Palato), Richard (Citrus Bistro) and Jean Francois Meteigner (La Cachette). At least mavericks like Eric at Vida and Sam Marvin of Modada, both veterans of the club scene, are trying to do something playful and new. But for the most part, restaurateurs have adopted a conservatism so myopic, it's hard to remember that Los Angeles was once--not so long ago, in fact--celebrated for its startling and adventurous cuisine.
No one's asking for a rerun of the '80s. Just give us a spark of inspiration. I'm convinced it will come. Los Angeles is such an engaged, vibrant city, and there are so many dedicated eaters out there ready to brave any obstacle, drive any distance, for an interesting meal. The town is just waiting for something new. And somebody new. There's still a lot of room at the top.