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L.A.'s breakfast club

Thanks to top chefs who know how to rise and shine, this could be the best meal of the day.

August 20, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

WHEN Campanile stopped serving daily breakfast a decade ago, the regulars (but obviously not enough of them) who'd made a cappuccino and pastry or poached eggs and ham at the restaurant part of their morning routine were devastated. They had become accustomed to using the white tablecloth restaurant as an office away from the office. Over a sumptuous breakfast, they would meet clients, hold meetings, plot goals and projects. Screenwriters scribbled, actors pored over scripts and there may already have been a few bloggers at their keyboards. And then it ended (except for weekend brunch, which is still going strong).

If Campanile couldn't keep breakfast going, what ambitious restaurant could? Du-par's and the Original Pantry rarely venture beyond the basics. Yet there's reason for optimism: After several years of deprivation for diners, the L.A. breakfast is making a comeback.

Why? It's a result of more relaxed working hours, unpredictable traffic and changing dining habits. Restaurants are noisier at night: If you want to spend time with a friend or colleague over a meal, breakfast has a certain novelty and convenience. And, usually, baby sitters are not involved. Or hard liquor. You can enjoy all the perks of a top-notch restaurant without the expense of a three-course meal, plus wine. Breakfast, I'm here to say, is a civilized affair, and compared with other dining options, a relative bargain.

Neal Fraser and his wife Amy Knoll Fraser helped jump-start the trend when they opened the casual BLD -- breakfast lunch dinner -- down the street from their more formal, contemporary American restaurant Grace. And they weren't just doing brunch, but breakfast every day. Ammo joined in too, with its early-morning offerings.

And now, a handful of restaurants, formal and laid-back, are discovering an enthusiasm for breakfast. Time it right, and you can stop on the way to work, avoid the worst of the traffic, eat something serious and leave ready to take on the day.

Suddenly there is an array of delicious options -- a Japanese bento box breakfast, a perfect croissant and cafe au lait, billowy pain perdu, a stack of blueberry ricotta pancakes, soft-scrambled tofu and the classic two eggs sunny side up with toast. Here's where to look.

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Gordon Ramsay. Britain's celebrated tow-headed chef offers a proper hotel breakfast in the posh new London Hotel. The Japanese bento box includes grilled salmon and whitefish, green tea noodles and buckwheat soba, a dipping sauce, beautiful rice and Japanese pickles. Some other dishes could use more attention to detail. Juices aren't squeezed to order as you'd expect at these prices, and while toast served in a silver-plated toast rack is lovely, what's up with the eggs Benedict? The English muffin is supermarket quality, toasted on one side only; however, the hollandaise is silky as can be and the eggs are impeccably poached. English breakfast features quite ordinary sausage, crisp delicious bacon, a grotty-looking wedge of portabello mushroom and, in my case, perfect sunny-side-up eggs for $24. Citrus French toast is cloyingly sweet and, oddly, comes with sweetened butter for another sugar rush. Scottish smoked salmon is luscious, though the bland soft scrambled eggs and undercooked potato blini that come with it leave something to be desired. Still, the setting is swell, service is attentive and it's quiet enough to talk, just not the top-notch experience you'd expect from a chef of this caliber. Gordon Ramsay at the London, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 358-7788; www.thelondonwest hollywood.com. Breakfast served 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

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Comme Ca. What a difference the morning makes at Comme Ca when light streams in the French windows of this handsome bistro from Sona's David Myers. Jugs of juices are lined up on the bar. Newspapers and style magazines are draped over bamboo sticks and the noise level is more subdued. If you're not all that hungry, order toasted baguette and terrific walnut and house-dried-raisin bread and a flaky croissant. The omelet, though, is curiously pale, missing the variations in texture that make a proper example so delicious. One morning it took three tries for the kitchen to get the coddled egg right. Never mind, there's still a custardy pain perdu ("lost bread," or French toast) made from fat slices of brioche dusted with powdered sugar. Also, Bruno's quiche laced with Gruyere is fabulously rich and delicious. Another great choice is eggs Norwegian, which feature house-cured gravlax with a poached egg and hollandaise. Comme Ca, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 782-1178; www .commecarestaurant.com. Breakfast served 8 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; brunch 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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