Don Dickman isn't Italian, but he can cook pasta like a Tuscan grandmother at Rocca. He consistently goes for the gutsy and rustic in a menu that changes daily; a specialty is ricotta gnocchi cloaked in a luscious oxtail ragu. ** 1/2. Reviewed Nov. 12, 2003. Pastas, $11 to $14. 1432-A 4th St.; (310) 395-6765. Italian.
Rockenwagner Restaurant has outdoor seating, a bar for small bites and a room reserved for stammtisch--long communal tables and an inexpensive prix fixe menu. **. Reviewed June 18, 2003. Specialties: Weisswurst with pretzel roll, Black Forest ham, veal goulash, pretzel burger. Entrees, $14.50 to $33.50. 2435 Main St.; (310) 399-6504. California French.
Sushi Roku. 1401 Ocean Ave.; (310) 458-4771. Japanese fusion. See listing under Pasadena. Also in La Cienega area.
A talented chef at the den-like 310 Lounge & Bistro creates compelling California cuisine in an odd Westside location. **. Reviewed Sept. 29, 2004. Specialties: citrus-marinated tuna tartare, asparagus salad with romesco sauce, Dungeness crab ravioli. Entrees, $12 to $32. 3321 Pico Blvd.; (310) 453-5001. Contemporary American.
The elegant Italian menu at Valentino includes dishes such as tortellini in a rich clear broth and marvelous grilled seppie (cuttlefish) straight from the Mediterranean on tiny green lentils accented with orange. The chef's tasting menu is generally the best way to go here. A new chef just arrived, though. Extraordinary wine list. ***. Reviewed Jan. 28, 2004. Chef's tasting dinner, $85; three-course menu rustico, $55. 3115 W. Pico Blvd.; (310) 829-4313. Italian.
The easygoing California menu at Violet is priced more for everyday than special occasions, and almost everything is appealing enough to try again. Specialties: goat cheese wontons, peppered New York steak, mac and cheese, whole trout in brown butter, braised beef short ribs, duck breast. Entrees, $8 to $19. 3221 Pico Blvd.; (310) 453-9113. California.
Now on its third chef, Whist at the luxe and trendy Viceroy Hotel tries to rise above its bar scene with a commitment to serious cuisine. Chic outdoor patio. * 1/2. Reviewed Jan. 26, 2005. Specialties: soft-shell crabs, black Angus tenderloin, Kobe beef burger. Entrees, $29 to $38. 1819 Ocean Ave.; (310) 260-7511. Contemporary American.
Avenue. ** 1/2. Reviewed Jan. 12, 2005. Entrees, $21 to $30. 1141 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach.; (310) 802-1973. French American. See Page 31 for more.
Chez Melange, inside the Palos Verdes Inn, is where chef Robert Bell cooks up a wildly eclectic menu of fresh seafood, pastas and meats. Specialties: Southern fried chicken salad, Chez burger, spicy Cajun meatloaf. Entrees, $14 to $27. 1716 S. Pacific Coast Highway at the Palos Verdes Inn, Redondo Beach; (310) 540-1222. California.
Gina Lee's Bistro focuses on fusion. The Asian "bistro" melds Korean, Chinese and Japanese cooking with eclectic California cuisine. Specialties: crispy wontons, chicken dumplings, whole crispy catfish, duck breast with orange Port sauce, marinated New York steak, lemon souffle. Entrees, $11 to $21. 211 Palos Verdes Blvd., Redondo Beach; (310) 375-4462. Asian fusion.
Gyu-Kaku. 24631 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance; (310) 325-1437. Japanese. See listing under Beverly Hills. Also in West Los Angeles.
Jay Bharat will take you far from Southern California as you see Indian families noshing on pettis (crisp fried pastry filled with coconut, raisins, nuts and potatoes) and sipping mango lassis. Specialties: okra curry, fried rice, stuffed puri (deep-fried bread), Southern Indian vegetarian plates. Entrees, $3 to $9. 18701 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 924-3310. Indian.
Komatsu Tempura Bar. Tempura set menus, $23 to $43. 1644 W. Carson St., Suite B, Torrance; (310) 787-0787. Japanese. See Page 17 for more.
Musha. Dishes, $3 to $18. 1725 W. Carson St., Torrance; (310) 787-7344. Japanese. Also in Santa Monica. See Page 18 for more.
Nico's is a contemporary American bistro on Naples Island. It's chic and modern with winning decor and fine food. Specialties: carpaccio, Maytag salad, rack of lamb, bread pudding. Entrees, $24 to $32. 5760 E. 2nd St., Long Beach; (562) 434-4479. American.
Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts' quirky Amuse Cafe attracts a mix of bohemian and well-heeled diners for its casual California fare. Specialties: onion and Gruyere tart, rib-eye burger, lemon-jasmine green tea-infused panna cotta. * 1/2. Reviewed Oct. 1, 2003. Entrees, $14 to $18. 796 Main St.; (310) 450-1956. California.
One place to stick to your diet is Axe (pronounced Ah-shay), a restaurant with a minimal Zen look. There are no flowers or linen, and the cuisine is presented on white dishes. Healthful drinks are featured, such as green tea and pale ale, as well as fresh, organic ingredients. Small dishes, $5 to $14; main courses, $20 to $25. 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; (310) 664-9787. California Mediterranean.