Piedmontese chef Roberto Perotti takes cavatelli, an elongated oval pasta with curled edges, and sauces it all'amatriciana--in the style of Amatrice, a small town outside Rome. Made with plum tomatoes, guanciale (cured pork jowl), a touch of peperoncino (dried hot red pepper) and a grating of pungent pecorino Romano, it's a lusty, completely satisfying dish, the kind of pasta I long to eat the minute I step off the plane in Rome. I like the gricia, too, which is all of the above, without the tomatoes, dominated by the sweet taste of the cured pork and the pecorino. Alto Palato, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 657-9271. $11.50.
Japanese Eggplant With Miso
Who would have thought that a dish with such an innocent-sounding name could taste so astonishingly good? Jozu's sweet-salty miso seems to intensify the delicate flavor of the violet-skinned cushions of eggplant. Pair this dish with a char siu-style pork chop that's brushed with a sweet, shoyu-based glaze, sliced over wrinkly nappa cabbage and served with a bowl of steamed white rice. Jozu, 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 655-5600. $6.50.
Before Citrus, Citronelle and all the other restaurants in Michel Richard's far-flung empire, there was Michel Richard, the ptissier. As talented (and erratic) a chef as he is, Richard is an even more brilliant pastry chef. Crunchy napoleon is one of his classics. And no matter how many times I've tasted someone else's take on it, his confection remains peerless: delicately crisp sheets of praline layered with sumptuous creme brulee generously freckled with vanilla bean. To cap it off, he swirls a glorious butterscotch sauce beside it on the plate. Richard proves that desserts don't have to be achingly sweet to make an impression. And I want to drag every young pastry chef in town to taste it. Citrus, 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 857-0034. $7.
Poached Eggs with Prosciutto on Toast
Breakfast at Campanile can lure me out of bed early--as soon as it opens at 8 a.m., in fact. The temptations are many: Viennese danish filled with barely sweetened cream cheese, crumbly oatmeal scones, tender sourdough doughnuts laced with cherries or pale blue and green Araucana eggs, soft-boiled and set on whimsical egg cups. But my favorite is rustic toasted whole-wheat bread blanketed with prosciutto di Parma and topped with two poached eggs and a drizzle of scallion oil. The green against the molten gold yolks is beautiful to behold. Campanile, 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 938-1447. $10 and served on weekends only.
Pasta e Fagioli
Every region of Italy has its version of pasta e fagioli--the earthy pasta and bean soup. In the Veneto, it's made with special maroon-and-white-marbled borlotti beans, vegetables and fresh pasta. In Calabria and Sardinia, it consists of dried fava beans and maccheroni, while cooks in Rome and Naples make it with chickpeas. In Forte dei Marmi, Giorgio Baldi's hometown on the Tuscan coast, it's a rich brown puree laced with borlotti beans and homemade tagliatelle. Here, seasoned at the table with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and coarsely ground black pepper, it is elemental and soulful, a soup I could eat every day. Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi, 114 W. Channel Road, Santa Monica; (310) 573-1660. $7.
Whenever I think about Restaurant Devon, a charming little storefront restaurant in Monrovia, I see myself slurping plump mussels from their shells and mopping up the garlic- and shallot-scented broth with my bread. The mere thought of this mouclade makes me wish I could go back for a bowl right now. The dish alternates on Devon's menu with steamed Manila clams or curried oysters with Champagne sauce. Both are excellent, but it's the mussels I really long for. (Note: When the chef can't get the small Prince Edward Island mussels, he'll use New Zealand green-lipped ones, but they're not nearly as good.) Restaurant Devon, 109 E. Lemon Ave., Monrovia; (818) 305-0013. $10.
Grilled Marinated Trout
If you ask for fish in Los Angeles restaurants, you hear the same choices over and over: Chilean sea bass, ahi tuna and the much overrated fish of the moment, escolar. Whatever happened to trout? So it's a nice surprise to find this elegant trout dish on Indochine's French-Vietnamese menu. Presented on an oval platter lined with a brilliant green leaf, the grilled marinated trout is slightly charred, its flesh moist beneath the crispy skin and fragrant with Asian basil. Indochine, 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 655-4777. $14.75.
Braised Veal Cheeks