Typical, hotel food is expensive and dull. But not at the Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel. Afternoon tea is exquisitely presented in the "living room," a haven of serenity in the middle of the city. And dinner or lunch at the hotel restaurant, the Belvedere, is a revelation. First of all, when the rest of Beverly Hills has retired for the night, this dining room has an intoxicating international buzz. And the food is elegant and light. The chef relies on rich stocks to infuse dishes with flavor and adapts his compositions to the season. Winter's game consomme with miniature ravioli may give way to spring's lobster consomme perfumed with lemongrass. Silky house-smoked salmon is garnished with crispy potato points and a delicate curry-lime sauce. And a juicy veal tenderloin might be paired with a chunky lobster and potato hash. Who knew hotel cuisine could be this interesting?
9882 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 788-2306. Entrees, $18 to $28.
One of the sleepers of the past year is Boxer, a small storefront restaurant that opened quietly on a trendy block of Beverly Boulevard. Some of the dishes on the menu sound overly complicated, but the young chef here, Neal Fraser, can cook. There's a lovely chopped salad with a fluffy topknot of greens, a good roasted garlic Caesar and fanciful main dishes such as Numidian hen wrapped in pancetta, with a beret of garlic mashed potatoes. Pastry chef Angela Hunter is responsible for the splashy desserts, which can be anything from a tangerine flan with a pomegranate glaze to a bread pudding baked in a small pumpkin. At lunch, there are wonderful rustic sandwiches, tasty pizzas and salads. Weekend brunch is one of the best around. I especially like the variation on eggs Benedict, poached eggs and thinly sliced rare beef tenderloin on an English muffin with a gossamer Cabernet hollandaise. This is a place to watch.
7615 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 932-6178. Entrees, $10.75 to $17.50.
Patrick Healy has charmed us all with his seductive French country cooking at Xiomara in Pasadena, where he is still executive chef. But until the posh Buffalo Club went democratic recently, few of us had the chance to taste Healy's American cooking. And in what a setting! It's a small, clubby dining room with antique mirrors and luxurious leather booths and chairs. For starters, Healy features irresistibly spicy and crisp buffalo wings and a sumptuous fresh corn and crab pancake. Come hungry and dig into his tall pork chop with dreamy mashed potatoes, fabulous Maine lobster with crinkly morels or New York steak with pungent blue cheese butter. Sides include cornmeal-fried okra, creamy hush puppies, collard greens and finger-thick cheese-grit fries. After 11, sneak in for chicken pot pie or Black Forest ham and white Vermont cheddar on grilled walnut bread. Champagne prices are not for the faint of heart. And watch that bottled water: It's $7 a pop.
1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-8600. Entrees, $17 to $28.
After seven years, Campanile is still turning out earthy, immensely appealing California-Mediterranean cooking. One of the things that endears it to me is the way chef-owner Mark Peel and his nightly dinner menu follow the seasons, not the fashions. Nancy Silverton's rustic, handcrafted breads and desserts are almost without peer. And the restaurant has a reasonably priced wine list of lesser-known treasures put together by someone who cares more about what's in the bottle than on the label. Bravo! Plus, I ask you, where else can you find grilled sardines or such silky cedar-smoked sturgeon with poached egg and frisee salad? The grilled prime rib smeared with black olive tapenade makes a fine dinner, as does the stupendous aged Kansas City strip with buttery spinach and fried potato wedges. Campanile is also known for its breakfast and morning pastries. For lunch, it offers soothing soups and world-class sandwiches on La Brea Bakery bread.
624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 938-1447. Entrees, $20 to $35.
Chinois on Main