Rustic Canyon, 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050, www.rusticcanyon.
Not since Sue Miller of the Let's Be Frank hot dog cart handed me a grass-fed beef dog have I been so excited about a mere sausage. Wurstküche, way downtown, proposes some 20 classic and exotic sausages along with almost two dozen truly interesting beers on tap, another dozen bottled beers -- and fat Belgian fries. That's pretty much it for the menu. But do you really need more? Drop in any time (they're open all afternoon and evening until 10, but soon, as in when the bar in back opens, they'll be open till 1 a.m). The bratwurst is fast (well, seven minutes) food at its best: a bun with some substance, a plump, handmade pork sausage bursting with juices, a dab of sauerkraut, maybe some sweet roasted peppers, brown mustard and you're home free. Have it with an Erdinger Dunkelweizen or a St. Bernardus ABT or, if you're teetotaling, one of the artisanal sodas. Hang around for awhile to bask in the arty downtown vibe. It kind of restores your faith in the viability of downtown.
Wurstküche, 800 E. 3rd St., L.A., (213) 687-4444, www.wurstkucherestaurant.com.
Marché Moderne's bistro food
This last year we've definitely moved into French bistro and brasserie revival mode with the opening of Anisette in Santa Monica, Comme Ça in West Hollywood and Church & State downtown, among others. Yet Marché Moderne at South Coast Plaza remains for me the quintessential modern French bistro. Chef-owner Florent Marneau makes his own charcuterie: rabbit rillettes, duck terrine and head cheese. He bakes tartes flambées (a savory Alsatian tart) in a wood-burning oven, and on Thursdays he makes bouillabaisse. He does a beautiful steak tartare, moules frites and braised rabbit with mustard. Add in his wife Amelia's luscious desserts and it's a destination.
Marché Moderne, 3333 Bristol St., Suite 3001, Costa Mesa, (714) 434-7900, www.
Braised lamb at Palate Food & Wine
Whenever I go to Palate Food & Wine in Glendale, I check the menu first thing to see if there's any baby Sonoma lamb from "dw" (that's farmer Don Watson, who drives down to L.A. a couple of times a month to deliver his delicate and flavorful lamb). On various visits, I've enjoyed the roast leg and some wonderful little chops, but the best piece of meat I had this year was a glorious braised shoulder of baby lamb Becerra served up one night scented with thyme and served in its own juices. Chef-owner Octavio Becerra knows enough not to trick it up. And this, like almost every dish on Palate's menu, is a model of balance and finesse.
Palate Food & Wine, 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 662-9463, www.palatefood.
Anisette's fruits de mer
A good friend, a table at Anisette and a towering plateau de fruits de mer: That's my idea of a perfect light supper at Alain Giraud's oh-so-French brasserie. I love to order a bottle of minerally white wine and alternate sips with crisp, tiny Kumamoto or Hood Canal oysters, pretty little clams and Carlsbad mussels, meaty crab legs and plump shrimp dipped, French-style, in a tomato-tinged Marie Rose sauce. If I really want to splurge, I'll order the biggest platter, the Royal, which comes with a whole poached lobster and makes a splendid dinner for two or three. Be sure to ask about any arrivages de la marée -- arrivals from the sea -- that ecailler (shellfish man) Christophe Happillon has got in that day. And if you're still hungry, order the lovely rack of lamb for two served with a sumptuous gratin dauphinoise.
Anisette, the Historic Clock Tower Build
ing, 225 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Second
Street), Santa Monica, (310) 395-3200,
Santa Barbara spot prawns at Providence
Providence has to be the best seafood restaurant in all of Southern California, but unlike Hungry Cat, where you can slip in any time, this Hollywood icon makes more sense for special occasions. The setting is elegant, the service first-rate, and the food, from chef-owner Michael Cimarusti, is ever-inventive and surprising. He's one chef who knows how to pace a tasting menu. Between two intricate and edgy courses, he'll slip in something absolutely simple, such as his glorious Santa Barbara spot prawns buried and cooked in salt, each bite a hauntingly sweet, briny note of the sea. Don't forget about lunch on Fridays, which this extremely talented chef makes a real occasion.
Providence, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 460-4170, www.providenceLA.com.
Chameau's duck bestila
Bestila, the marvelous Moroccan sweet and savory pie traditionally made with pigeon, egg cooked in spices, almonds and sugar, is a great deal of work to make, so whenever I get that hankering, I head for Chameau on Fairfax in L.A. Not your typical Moroccan restaurant -- forget about belly dancers or waiters pouring warm water over your hands -- this little place is more like a bistro. But chef Adel Chagar's individual duck bestila is a thing of beauty. Instead of using phyllo dough, he goes to the trouble of making his own thin sheaves of the traditional pastry called warka, made by bouncing a ball of dough off a hot pan, leaving a thin layer of pastry behind. The filling is a wonderful savory and sweet mix of duck, eggs and toasted almonds scented with cinnamon and covered with a drift of powdered sugar. To be followed by a tagine of chicken with preserved lemons or a fragrant couscous embellished with vegetables.
Chameau, 339 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 951-0039, www.chameaurestaurant.com.