FOR food-show fans in TV withdrawal now that "Top Chef" is over, there's a very different reason to find the remote. Sunday night, the high-definition channel Mojo airs the first episode of the second season of "After Hours With Daniel," chef Daniel Boulud's feast-as-television show. This season's 10 episodes were filmed at restaurants in L.A., and like the first season's eight, which were shot in New York, feature guests such as actors and writers as well as chefs.
By phone from Paris, Boulud said that when executive producer Diane Nabatoff approached him with the idea for a cooking show, he'd told her, "I'm not good at dump-and-stir; I'm good at throwing a party for friends."
The 30-minute shows cram in quite a bit of action. Boulud meets the guest chef in his or her restaurant kitchen, where they chat and cook a menu the pair create together. Boulud shops for ingredients with the chef, the guests arrive and the meal begins, as does the unscripted -- and often lively -- conversation.
In the first episode, Boulud comes to Pizzeria Mozza at Highland and Melrose avenues, where Nancy Silverton makes pizza and antipasti. Chef Alain Giraud serves up plates of Boulud's roasted pork. Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond") jokes about his Italian mother-in-law.
The next episode takes place at Hatfield's on Beverly Boulevard; the next, in a departure, is at the sprawling San Marino home of Patina's Joachim Splichal. Subsequent episodes were shot at Father's Office, Sona, Ford's Filling Station, Providence, Grace, Simon LA and Campanile.
The food looks great on "After Hours," and Boulud not only cooks dishes -- such as a fromage de tete, a dish made from pigs' heads, with Quinn Hatfield -- but also draws out conversation from his guests, exchanging tips and information with the chefs.
But having non-chefs around the table helps keep the conversation accessible to non-pros: "They can ask the questions that we'd want to know," Nabatoff says, "like 'Are you really going to eat that?' "
There's a surprising amount of real cooking information that gets passed along with the heaping plates and cheffy gossip, but the real fun is watching everyone actually enjoy themselves.
"It's not about showing off, it's not about technique; it's about having a good time," Boulud says of the filmed dinners, which can run for hours before they're edited.
"We just keep talking," he says. "Sometimes I lose my voice, but that's part of the party."
Mojo is available from your cable television company but requires a high-def box. You can purchase the first season on DVD at www.mojohd.com (where you can also watch clips of the shows and get recipes from past episodes), amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.
* Robata Bar opened last night next to Santa Monica's Sushi Roku (with which it shares a phone number). From the folks behind the Sushi Rokus, Boa steakhouses and Katana, it's a casual, no-reservations, open-daily-till-midnight annex with 50 seats. Sake, beer and cocktails are on offer and the snappy food menu lists robata yaki (grilled skewers), seafood shooters (including uni and tangerine with plum wine) and tartares and ceviches. 1401 Ocean Ave. (entrance on Santa Monica Boulevard), Santa Monica; (310) 458-4771; www.robatabar.com.
* The new wine bar at Valentino opens Monday. Christened "V-vin bar" but known conversationally as "vin bar," it's billed as a place to "drop by" for small plates with an emphasis on crudo and carpaccio. There's a changing list of specialty cocktails and featured wines from the famous cellar. Look for a cheese cart with selections matched to featured wines. Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 829-4313, www.valentinosm.com.