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The Restaurant Guide 2003

Haute

June 22, 2003|S. Irene Virbila

Aubergine is the little restaurant that could. It's Tim and Liza Goodell's Newport Beach cottage turned big city sophisticate. Goodell is, hands down, the most interesting chef working in Orange County. Fresh and contemporary, the prix fixe menu, with options of three to nine courses, is always exciting.

L'Orangerie is a special occasion restaurant in the traditional sense--a vision of French romance with its extravagantly scented flower arrangements, coy velvet banquettes and enough candle power to light up Versailles. Like the cheese and wine they serve, Gerard and Virginie Ferry have a tradition of importing their young chefs from France, so the cuisine tends to reflect the most current Parisian trends.

Patina, Joachim Splichal's flagship restaurant, is modernist, a bit chilly, with correct, but stiff, service and highly produced French-California cuisine. Famous faces sipping Burgundy at corner tables add an overlay of glamour to this long-running Hollywood venue.

In a town full of luxury hotels, two stand out for their kitchens: The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington and The Belvedere at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Both have capable and talented chefs who came up through the hotel system with their passion for cooking intact. At the Ritz-Carlton, Craig Strong's sensual cuisine has strong Mediterranean influences, while Bill Bracken's at the Peninsula flirts with Asian accents.

Italophiles in the mood for an elegant evening head straight for Valentino, where the waiters dress up and the Italian at the next table may be a famous winemaker or cinematographer. You'll eat better here if you order the prix fixe extravaganza menu, a number of small courses that includes seafood flown in from Italy, than ordering off the menu.

L.A.'s hardest working chef may be Josiah Citrin. He's behind the stoves, in the dining room, on the phone, all at once. At Melisse, he puts everything he's got into his French-California cooking, and his faithful customers know it. Melisse may not be the prettiest French restaurant around, but the number of birthdays and anniversaries celebrated here mean it's one of the most appreciated.--S.I.V.

Aubergine, 508 29th St., Newport Beach; (949) 723-4150. The Belvedere at the Peninsula Beverly Hills, 9882 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 788-2306. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington, 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena; (626) 585-6240. L'Orangerie, 903 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 652-9770. Melisse, 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-0881. Patina, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 467-1108. Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 829-4313.

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