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ANNUAL RESTAURANT ISSUE : Cover Story

The Best of The Rest

From Southern California's Most Sophisticated Menus, the Dishes That Inspire

June 23, 2002|S. IRENE VIRBILA

Set in a former Googie-inspired coffee shop, with an outdoor lounge that has low-slung Parsons couches and shoji screens, [temple] attracts a young, fashionable crowd. Chef Richard Aramino has created L.A.'s first crossover Korean. To traditional dishes and flavors he adds accents of Brazil (where owners Jun and Soyon Kim grew up) and California. Appetizers perfect for grazing include hand-pleated rock shrimp dumplings, crab cakes laced with kimchi and an ornate seafood pancake. Every entree comes with an array of panchan, side dishes. And to drink, the bartender concocts Soju Caipirinha. Temple, 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 360-9460. Entrees, $12 to $22.

*

[ALTO PALATO] is a stylish Italian restaurant that consistently turns out wonderful thin-crusted pizzas and rustic regional pasta dishes in a roomy contemporary setting. At the aperitif hour, the bar serves up a well-chosen selection of Italian cheeses and wines by the glass. On Wednesday nights tour the regions of Italy via a special $25 prix fixe menu that features a different region each week. Wine drinkers have an incentive: If you order the regional menu, any bottle of wine is 40% off. And for dessert, what else but the homemade gelato? Alto Palato, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 657-9271. Pizzas, $10 to $14. Entrees, $11 to $25.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 10 inches; 382 words Type of Material: Correction
Restaurant address--The correct address for Balboa Restaurant & Lounge in the Los Angeles Times Magazine ("The Best of the Rest," June 23) is 8462 W. Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.

*

Nobu Matsuhisa has restaurants from here to New York, London and Paris--even Tokyo. But [MATSUHISA] is the original, where he honed his peculiar fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavors. The straightforward sushi is excellent, but his regulars can't get enough of "new-style sashimi" doused with warm olive oil, squid "pasta" with asparagus, and seafood perked up with his signature sauces. The presentation is arresting, and the normally austere Japanese palette of flavors is punched up with garlic, chile, even butter. Reserve a seat at the tempura bar, which serves an omakase (chef's choice) that includes his latest creations. Matsuhisa, 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 659-9639. Entrees, $20 to $50. Omakase, $75.

*

[BALBOA RESTAURANT & LOUNGE] is not your father's steakhouse. Set inside The Grafton on Sunset hotel, the restaurant's edgy design attracts a young, hip crowd. Instead of whiskey and sodas, the bar turns out unusual cocktails--the weirder the better. Tables are small and the noise level extreme, but the beef is prime and aged to the max. The superlative New York steak is aged about 40 days. First courses stand out from the crowd, too. When there's a pecan tart on the menu, why skip dessert? Balboa Restaurant & Lounge, 8383 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 650-8383. Entrees, $16 to $39.

*

Everything from the sea, both near and far, appears on [WATER GRILL'S] menu. Under chef Michael Cimarusti, this once-moribund seafood house has become the city's best. Stop in before the theater or a concert for oysters from the raw bar, or try a bowl of the fabulous white clam chowder laced with applewood-smoked bacon. His big-eye tuna tartare is superb; so are the loup de mer with fennel and the Columbia river salmon. And the desserts, from pastry chef Wonyee Tom, are worth every calorie. Water Grill, 544 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 891-0900. Entrees, $25 to $35.

*

The address of [BISTRO 21] for a long time was jealously guarded by the lucky few who happened on it by chance or had followed chef/owner Koichiro Kikuchi from his days at La Boheme. With only a handful of tables and no chance of a scene in his mini-mall location, Kikuchi concentrates on the food: for example, a puristi's lobster bisque, seared foie gras on a pedestal of braised daikon, lobster in a swath of emerald watercress sauce and a sumptuous duck confit. Never fussy or overwrought, his French cooking embodies a graceful Japanese aesthetic. Bistro 21, 846 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 967-0021. Entrees, $16 to $27.

*

[THE BUFFALO CLUB] is an odd, maddening place. Lost in an industrial part of Santa Monica, with no sign outside, it has only a valet station to mark the spot. As you'd expect, it has plenty of attitude. Inside is a sophisticated supper club with luxurious leather chairs, generous booths and a magical garden with Chinese lanterns strung overhead. The surprise is the excellent American menu from one of L.A.'s best French-trained chefs, Patrick Healy. Try the spicy buffalo wings, the classic crab cakes and, in season, juicy soft-shell crabs. Don't forget the ethereal cornmeal-crusted okra or the fries. The Buffalo Club, 1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-8600. Entrees, $25 to $32.

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