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Special Restaurant Issue | Scene stealer

New on the block

June 20, 2004|Special Restaurant Issue

You can still hear the Midwest twang in Norman Van Aken's voice even though it's been years since he hitchhiked from Illinois to Key West, Fla., where he supported himself by working at fish joints and dives. At some point, though, cooking took. He taught himself French culinary techniques and went on to practically invent the exuberant fusion of American, Caribbean and Latin American cuisines called Nuevo Latino.

When he opened his third Norman's (the other two are in Florida) at the Sunset Millennium this spring, it was the first serious restaurant to debut on the Sunset Strip in a long while. Diners are agog over the exotic, flamboyant combination of ingredients and flavors such as French toast with curacao-scented foie gras, griddled brioche, passion fruit caramel and gingery candied lime zest. But the biggest surprise may be the room: sophisticated, elegant and--even more rare--comfortable. The colors and textures are sensual, the spacing between the tables luxurious. And the kitchen, with its blue and green tiles and state-of-the-art equipment, is a dream. The best seat in the house? The chef's table at one end of the kitchen.

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