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The Restaurant Guide 2003

Al Fresco

June 22, 2003|S. Irene Virbila

Who wants to sit indoors at Michael's in Santa Monica when open-air dining is only a few steps away? At this quintessential California restaurant, the garden is the thing, with an A-list crowd relaxing around the tables in comfortable armchairs. Sculptures are tucked among the tropical greenery, and overhead, a canvas roof adjusts to the occasional inclement weather.

Behind The Buffalo Club's purposefully seedy camouflage is a posh American restaurant--a vision of retro luxe with champagne bottles in silver tubs, opulent leather upholstery and an industry-rich crowd. But Buffalo Club also has a magical patio strung with Chinese lanterns that sway whenever there's a breeze. There's a lively outdoor bar with music on Thursdays, a sea of French garden tables and saucy bistro chairs bordered by trellises and potted topiaries.

There's no better place to spend a fat morning than the terrace at the Hotel Bel-Air. Twined with bougainvillea and bordered by feathery ferns and palms, it overlooks the lawns and a glassy lake with swans. A thermos of coffee, a newspaper and a buttery morning pastry or egg dish are as restorative as a weekend away.

The Hollywood restaurant and lounge Falcon has taken the walled patio to extravagant dimensions with a huge open-air dining room flanked by a fireplace and a bar at either end. Along one side is a row of pillowed bleachers, where twentysomethings perch like flocks of starlings, cocktails in hand.

Spago Beverly Hills' most coveted tables are in the courtyard framed by gnarled olive trees strung with lights and primitive staghorn ferns. Just try getting a reservation, though, at this room within a room, which somehow feels more festive than anywhere else in the restaurant. Bring on the champagne and let executive chef Lee Hefter show what he can do with his tasting menu.--S.I.V.

The Buffalo Club, 1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-8600. Falcon, 7213 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 850-5350. Hotel Bel-Air, 701 Stone Canyon Road, Bel-Air; (310) 472-1211; Michael's, 1147 3rd St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-0843. Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880.

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