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Special Restaurant Issue | On the town

Girls just want to have fun

(Scene 3) You've had a tough week at work, and you've summoned the girlfriends for a great escape. Where to go to forget all your cares?

June 20, 2004

Hollywood is bursting with new clubs and restaurants. The latest is Tokio, from the owner of Beauty Bar next door (where you get your nails done over a martini). The theme--an expat Tokyo nightclub from the early '60s--is clever, with waitresses decked out in bobbed hair, clunky go-go boots and short peony-flowered dresses tied with obi.

From the small stage next to the bar, a campy Japanese songstress performs with a girl guitarist. They've got swell cocktails, but the sushi and other dishes don't impress, except for Tokio's sushi burger, two patties of sushi rice enclosing some tuna tataki. On Wednesday nights, it's karaoke.

Minibar has sprouted in strip-mall territory just south of Universal Studios. Look for the big white M in the window and the female valets out front. Inside, waiters circulate with tempting little dishes such as duck confit egg rolls, spicy Moroccan chicken wings glazed with pomegranate syrup and diminutive veal meatballs spiked with chorizo. For dessert, don't miss the homemade marshmallows bobbing in chocolate sauce. The food has as much wit as the retro-futuristic decor. A very sweet spot.

Slip into something comfortable before venturing to Nirvana, a new restaurant and lounge in Beverly Hills so hip that there's no sign out front. Erotic Indian paintings and sculptures cover the walls. A koi stream runs underfoot, and in front of a fireplace you can lounge on lavish canopied beds. Fanciful cocktails (the Nirvana is vodka "refreshed" with mint and lime) and little plates of Indian-accented food are served on low tables. If you can't get a bed, you'll have to repair to the dining room or outdoor patio, each with its own fireplace but not nearly as fun.

Cinch comes on strong in Santa Monica with Aussie-Asian-influenced food. This is one trendy restaurant where you should eat: sparkling fresh sushi from Tamaji Hata and a menu of smart, worldly dishes from chef Chris Behre. Think corn soup embellished with lobster oil, seared scallops on sunchokes, shiso-wrapped fried oysters and roast pork loin stuffed with dates.

Dolce in West Hollywood goes for a sexy Italian vibe with rows of votive candles and black leather-clad tables. The food is better than you have any reason to expect in such a trendy place. Actor Ashton Kutcher is an investor, so you'll have to bear with young girls trooping through, hoping for a glimpse of him. Pick and choose from the enoteca menu of small dishes. Pastas are reliably good too. Sipping Italian wine makes more sense than drinking cocktails (the wine list was put together by former Valentino sommelier Alessandro Sbrendola). If you have a big group, it might be fun to reserve the room with luxe banquettes off the patio, but then you'd miss the people-watching.

For a more sedate lunch, it must be The Ivy in Los Angeles, purely for people watching and occasional star sighting. The decor is unabashedly girlie too, with its white picket fence, plump flowered cushions and fringed umbrellas in the garden (which is where you'll want to sit to see and be seen). The menu hardly changes, so just order what you had five or 10 years ago. For the regulars, that means corn chowder, crab cakes and New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp. Oh, and of course, the definitive chopped salad. If you're not with someone famous, be prepared to wait and watch that choice table go to someone else.

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