At a new restaurant, I check out the bar not so much for the cocktails but to see what the menu is like and take in the scene from a bird's-eye perch. I actually love to eat at the bar, a great choice on the later side, or even the earlier. And it's especially good if you're dining alone. But it also works for two — and, at a push, three, as long as you can get a spot at the corner of the bar where it's easier to talk. You can start with a drink and then move on to a dish or two, whatever you feel like, no rules. At some restaurants, the bar menu is basically snacks. But others put some effort into the special menu, encouraging even regulars to drop in on nights when they're not ready for the commitment of a full tasting menu. Here are some worthy contenders.
When Wolfgang Puck re-envisioned Spago last year, part of his idea was to expand the bar. It now encompasses the eight-seat bar itself, a handful of tables across from it and, around the corner, another half dozen low tables dispersed in front of a fireplace at the garden end of the dining room. To eat: fantastic bincho-grilled chicken wings, pork and leek chile dumplings and a soft-shell crab po' boy with the world's best tartar sauce. There's also a burger and Puck's smoked salmon pizza. For dessert, a frozen kulfi pop or doughnuts with yuzu glaze and black sesame custard. And, this is a big plus, you can order wine by the glass or from the hefty regular wine list.
176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880. Bar bites, $6 to $28.
Lucques has long been my favorite stop for a steak frites at the bar and a glass of St. Joseph. It comes with a made-to-order béarnaise and, of course, excellent fries. But there's also a comforting omelette aux fines herbes with a perky arugula salad, jamón serrano and butter sandwich, or spaghetti carbonara. And to finish, a trio of beautiful cheeses, each one à point. You can order from the regular menu at the L-shaped bar as well and just kind of hang with the bartender and whoever else is sitting there. One night it was a wine producer and his wife tucking into the giant grilled club steak for two.
8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Bar menu, $7 to $24.
Downstairs from Bouchon Bistro is Bar Bouchon with its own small menu. With tables set along the arcade, it's a quiet spot for supper or a light snack. You can order popcorn lavished with truffle butter, a trio of barbecued pork sliders on adorable shiny buns with a little slaw inside, and a beautifully seasoned steak tartare if you get there before 7 p.m. when the happy hour menu is still in effect. Otherwise, it's chilled seafood platters, steamed mussels, a lovely yellowfin tuna Nicoise with butter leaf lettuce stacked high — and the world's best French dip sandwich. Note that it's open only until 10 p.m.
235 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9910. Bar menu, $3 to $23.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times