There's something so sensual, and somehow soothing, about slipping a soft, sweet steamed mussel out of its shell into your mouth. Mussels have a funk and richness all their own. Some mollusk lovers go for the big green-lipped variety from New Zealand. They're not my favorites, I confess. I prefer the small, glossy black ones from Prince Edward Island and the lovely bouchots from Maine. The classic way of eating them, at least for the French, is steamed in white wine with plenty of bread to sop up the juices. But mussels lend themselves to all kinds of cuisines, with a special affinity for Asian dishes and, here in L.A., for Mexican or Latin variations.
Rustic Canyon's chef, Jeremy Fox, has been turning out a vibrant pozole verde that's become one of my favorite dishes at the Santa Monica restaurant and wine bar. He makes his pozole with big fleshy kernels of Rancho Gordo hominy and plenty of mussels and clams in a shellfish broth garnished with scallions and pretty radishes. I loved his grilled, sliced lamb heart with sugar snap peas, okra leaves and crispy bits of Japanese rice in a pugnacious bagna cauda dressing too. And who could resist the Weiser Family Farms fingerlings with chicken giblet gravy? Save room for dessert.
1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050, http://www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com. Clam and mussel pozole verde, $15.
John Sedlar is excited about his lonchera menu, best described as Latin-style dim sum served from carts and trays, but he's still got one of my favorites on the lunch menu. That would be mussels negro, mussels bobbing with bits of paprika-streaked chorizo in a gently smoldering aji amarillo broth. Shellfish and pork is a classic combination, one that's especially delicious accented with chile. Oh, go ahead, you'll have to have an order of tortilla florales, handmade tortillas impressed with flower petals and served with "Indian butter," a seductive avocado purée.
1050 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, (213) 749-1460, http://www.riverarestaurant.com. Mussels negro, $10. Lunch only.
Thomas Keller's French bistro is the place to get those small, glossy Maine bouchot mussels. Chef David Hands steams them in a special mussel pot with white wine, Dijon mustard and a pinch of saffron. They come to the table wafting a scent of mussels, sea and saffron with a heap of perfect French fries on the side. Have them with a Storm Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Ynez Valley or a Pinot Gris from Flying Goat in Santa Maria Valley. To start, I'd go with the equally classic salad of watercress and endive in a walnut oil dressing.
235 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9910, bouchonbistro.com/bh. Moules au safran, $28.50, dinner only.