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Special Restaurant Issue | Lotus Land

Eat here now

The latest and greatest L.A. restaurants don't fit into one category--unless you count eagerly anticipated

June 19, 2005|S. Irene Virbila

Those of us who live and breathe restaurants have had a tough time. It's the first year that I can remember when so many major restaurants have straggled late to the finish line, shanghaied by permit or partner problems, design glitches or that old standby--money. We've had to sit back and wait for this or that anticipated place to open, clogging a prospective restaurant's answering machine with messages, crossing out plans to dine at the new spot again and again.

I can't wait to see what Michael Cimarusti will do when he gets a restaurant of his own. It should have been here months ago. Patience. Providence purportedly is to open this week. And then there's Tim and Liza Goodell's latest restaurant, Dakota, in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which finally debuted two weeks ago.

Wilshire is more than six months overdue. Meanwhile, the Lodge, a steakhouse for the Atkins generation, is missing in action.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that when restaurants finally opened their doors, many were worth the wait. They turned out more interesting than imagined, and turned up in unexpected neighborhoods and in fresh genres. This year is definitely not the year of the copycat. These are true originals, inspired and inspiring. Let's eat.

*

Providence

Seafood lovers have been waiting--and waiting--for Providence, Michael Cimarusti's restaurant in the old Patina space, to fling open its doors. We're assured now that opening night is imminent. During his six-year tenure at Water Grill in downtown L.A., Cimarusti turned an indifferent seafood house into one of the best seafood restaurants in the country with his imaginative, rigorous cooking. At his own place, he plans to take the food right to the cutting edge and will offer several tasting menus, plus an a la carte menu and, not to worry, options for dedicated carnivores too. Co-owner Donato Poto, who ran Bastide with such skill, is in charge of the front of the house, leaving Cimarusti to focus on what he does best. It's going to be very interesting to see what he'll do on his own.

Entrees, $30 to $40. 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 460-4170.

*

Norman's

Norman Van Aken, one of this country's most celebrated chefs, blew into town from Florida to launch a restaurant on the Sunset Strip. Funny thing, though, not many L.A. diners have been paying attention. They're missing out, because Norman's is one of the most interesting and sophisticated restaurants to open in these parts in a long while. People seem convinced that the Strip is only for kids. Not so. Norman's is a restaurant for grown-ups. The dining room is warm and inviting, but the chef's table in the kitchen is the best seat in the house. Van Aken's menu is a tribute to the tropics. Don't miss his signature conch chowder in coconut milk, the yucca-stuffed crispy shrimp or his Havana-style pork. Sommelier Peter Birmingham has put together an exciting wine and cocktail list to match the exotic flavors.

Entrees, $27 to $38. 8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-2400. www.normans.com

*

Ortolan

This new 3rd Street French restaurant from L'Orangerie alum Christophe Eme places his studied contemporary French cuisine in a less formal, more youthful setting. Wrapped in cream-colored leather banquettes with crystal chandeliers dangling overhead, Ortolan attracts a crowd dressed in couture or jeans and cashmere. The food, though, is anything but casual. In a flirtation with concepts fashionable in Paris and Barcelona, everything is elaborately plated. Early on, the kitchen had trouble getting dishes out in a timely fashion. Recently, though, Eme and crew are on track, turning out polished French cooking that invites lingering. Standouts include slate-roasted scallops, crispy langoustines with a shot of minestrone and filet of beef with marrow bone.

Entrees, $31 to $39. Chef's menu, $120. 8338 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (323) 653-3300. www.ortolanrestaurant.com

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Meson G

At Meson G, Tim and Liza Goodell have given the old Citrus space a sexy makeover. Posh orange leather banquettes, a supercharged bar scene and a trendy small-plates menu set both hipsters' and foodies' pulses racing. But the Melrose Avenue restaurant may be in the throes of an (adolescent) identity crisis. The Goodells recently brought in Josef Centeno, chef de cuisine at their flagship Aubergine, which is temporarily shuttered, to retool the menu. Much of his food is truly delicious--mackerel tartare on toast, John Dory with celery and Seville orange marmalade or a silky foie gras panna cotta--but the fussy plating can make it seem more like a do-it-yourself tasting menu than anything resembling tapas. To wit, Centeno has just introduced a Tuesday night family-style dinner--which will change every week--presumably for those who can't give up big plates.

Dinner dishes, $8 to $18; lunch, $8 to $14; chef's tasting menu, $95 per person. 6703 Melrose Ave. (at Highland Avenue), Los Angeles; (323) 525-1415.

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Dominick's

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