Pinot Bistro has got the right look: wood-paneled walls, black-and-white tiled floor, black leather chairs, tightly orchestrated tables. At this, the first of Joachim Splichal's many spinoffs, the food comes out on time. The wine service is correct. And the menu, created by Splichal and executive chef Octavio Becerra, is French bistro with a twist, served up in enormous portions. You can't have a bistro without baked onion soup and duck liver mousse, farm chicken with French fries and classic duck confit. But there's much more interesting fare here, too. How about warm octopus salad or lamb ravioli with Tunisian spices? Splichal trademarks are sprinkled throughout the menu: mashed potatoes, seared scallops, angel hair onion rings, horseradish. OK, he does balance the heartier bistro fare with a couple of spa or vegetarian dishes each night. But some of the most appealing dishes show up as plats du jour: suckling pig with homemade sauerkraut or braised veal short ribs with artichoke barley risotto. The execution of dishes from the everyday menu, however, can sometimes be lackluster.
12969 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 990-0500. Entrees, $14.95 to $19.95.
When Luciano Pellegrini, Posto's young Italian chef, makes pasta, his dishes are so unequivocally Italian in taste and texture that they elicit groans of pleasure: handmade garganelli tossed with lobster and fresh dill, tender ravioli stuffed with rabbit and sauced with black truffles, and, that old Roman standby, spaghetti aglio e olio, preferably with a little bottarga (pressed and salted mullet roe from Sardegna) shaved over the top. This is the real thing. If you ask, Pellegrini will prepare a special three- or four-course pasta-tasting menu. Or you might start with one of his artful salads or request something as basic and satisfying as a platter of prosciutto, bresaola (air-dried beef), skinny salami and oil-slicked olives. Entrees are straightforward: veal piccata, lamb chops with balsamic vinegar, nicely cooked salmon and striped bass. Also worth watching for are the mixed grilled meats and the wild boar sausage served with soft grilled cabbage. Like Piero Selvaggio's other restaurants, Valentino and Primi, Posto has a good list of Italian wines.
14928 Ventura Blvd. (at Kester Avenue), Sherman Oaks; (818) 784-4400. Entrees, $17 to $25; tasting menu, $52 per person.
Rex il Ristorante
Rex il Ristorante, downtown Los Angeles' elegant Art Deco restaurant, is one of the Southland's temples of Italian cuisine. And its new chef, Gino Angelini, is an experienced hand from the Adriatic coast. Together with Rex's owner, Mauro Vincenti, he has reworked the menu to reflect state-of-the-art Italian cuisine. Vincenti has recently installed a rotisserie and grill fired with olive wood. Though Angelini hasn't explored everything it can do, he's already turning out splendid spit-roasted filet of beef with pancetta and laurel, pigeon with grapes and toasted pine nuts, lamb perfumed with garlic. The beautifully grilled aged Porterhouse tastes more like bistecca al Fiorentina with that edge of wood smoke, terrific with an acciugata, a Tuscan sauce of pounded anchovies and capers in extra virgin olive oil. Rex's pastas have always been outstanding, but now, along with more elaborate recipes, you can get lusty Roman classics such as spaghetti all'amatriciana. Rex has a fine wine list of superstars from Tuscany and Piedmont. Desserts? Let's face it, they've never been Italy's strongest suit.
617 S. Olive St., Los Angeles; (213) 627-2300. Entrees, $18 to $32.
More than a year after Hans Rockenwagner initiated Tuesday night stammtisch at his Santa Monica restaurant, it's still going strong. Regulars and anyone else who drops in visit around a communal table, ordering flights of appetizers or weisswurst with pretzel rolls, drinking imported Bavarian wheat beer or wines by the glass. Sometimes Rockenwagner uses such evenings to test dishes. But mostly, they're just good fun. That and every other night of the week, you can order his classics: airy crab souffle with lobster butter sauce, truffled duck liver mousse and the short stack of house-smoked salmon sandwiched between lacy potato chips, creme frai^che and caviar. Experiments in Asian-influenced or fusion cuisine, though, are rarely as appealing. The informal lunch menu includes an excellent "pretzel" burger with Swiss cheese and grilled onions and a grilled vegetable sandwich with baby artichokes. Brunch offers softly scrambled eggs with grilled Black Forest ham or a fluffy German apple pancake scented with vanilla. And very soon it should be time for Rockenwagner's annual celebration of white asparagus.
2435 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 399-6504. Entrees, $17.50 to $22.50.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse