In the just-published 1997 Zagat Los Angeles/Southern California Restaurants guide, Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills beats out Patina to emerge as the top-ranked restaurant for food. Patina moved from third place into the second slot in the new guide, while Shiro in Pasadena fell from last year's top spot to third. (Joachim Splichal's Patina still tops in the list of favorite restaurants.) The Zagat guide's democratic ratings are compiled from questionnaires filled out by restaurant-goers.
In a press release, the Zagat survey compared prices of dining in major American cities. The average cost of dining out in L.A. dropped slightly from $23.90 in 1995 to $23.72 in 1996, putting Los Angeles in fifth place overall. Most expensive? New York ($65.08) followed by Chicago ($53.52).
But where do Zagat's surveyors eat out most of the time? According to the Traffic Report (a new item in this year's guide listing the spots most often visited in order of popularity), they're chowing down at California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory and Koo Koo Roo.
Whale of a Time: How to amuse restless kids and visiting relatives over the holidays? Dine with a big fish. Introduce them to such charming company as Shamu and the killer whale trainers at Sea World in San Diego. The special poolside lunch buffet of chicken Dijon, beef, pasta, pecan rice pilaf, salads and children's menu includes chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies in the shape of--you guessed it, Shamu. It runs through Tuesday.
* The buffet costs $18.95, adults; $9.95, children from 3 to 11. Park admission not included. Reservations: (619) 226-3601.
Going, Going, Nearly Gone?: Mary Atkinson is hoping for a stay of execution from her landlord. Her 13-year-old Cajun-Creole restaurant, Orleans, recently lost its lease and this year's New Year's Eve bash will be the last at the present location. (Atkinson is still searching for a new locale.) A Dixieland band, a festive Cajun-Creole menu ($50 per person), a magician and a costume contest in New Orleans' Mardi Gras tradition will bid adieu to the old spot. She's celebrating Mardi Gras early, just in case her wish for the New Year--to stay on through March--isn't granted.
* Orleans, 11705 National Blvd. at Barrington Avenue, West Los Angeles. (310) 479-4187.
Safety Watch: If you haven't yet made reservations for New Year's Eve, consider Stoney Point Bar & Grill in Pasadena, where you can request home delivery for yourself and your wheels. Owner Amadeo Costantino offers transportation home for revelers--and their cars.
* Stoney Point Bar & Grill, 1460 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (818) 449-9715.
Cyber Sipping: Move over, Starbucks. Instead of the usual double espresso and low foam lattes, how about a spot of Assam? Or an English Breakfast latte, a Dragonwell slush or Darjeeling frappe? Tea giant Thomas J. Lipton Co. is banking on the growing interest in the beverage with the opening of Lipton Teahouse in Old Pasadena, where customers can sample more than 30 teas with savory and sweet snacks. A tea tender will be on hand to advise.
And for the laptop sippers, a few tables are equipped with phone jacks. Sounds civilized.
* Lipton Teahouse, 124 E. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena. (818) 568-8787. Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday.
Coming Attraction: A magic-themed restaurant? Magician David Copperfield has signed on with Disney to create a magical dining experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in 1998. Copperfield will orchestrate grand illusions via video monitors. Tables will levitate and some guests will disappear. And, presumably, reappear.
Dosa Do: Cerritos' popular South Indian restaurant Madhu's Dasaprakash has just opened a second location on the Westside in a Santa Monica mini-mall.
* Madhu's Dasaprakash, Palm Plaza, second level, 12217 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 820-9477.
Name Game: Grady's of Beverly Hills is the new name for the restaurant going into the space once occupied by the Bistro (246 N. Canon Drive). The owner, a Texan named Grady Sanders, booted out Francophile suggestions in favor of something more casual. After extensive renovation, doors will open in early spring. Included in the plans is a private dining room on the second level and a cigar room to be called the Jockey Club.
Pets Eat Out, Too: Four-legged creatures get the red-carpet treatment at San Diego's U.S. Grant Hotel. Turndown amenities include bananas (for orangutans) and dog biscuits.
The pet-care program grew out of the general manager's love for his dog, Flapjack. "Lots of guests travel with pets, but many hotels don't cater to them. We wanted to change that," says Norma Wilt, director of sales and marketing.
Though the usual eats are available--cat and dog chow--pets have choices such as rice with steak, chicken or fish, and ground beef (fat removed, of course) with whatever. Dog walkers are available gratis and the usual deposit for pets and weight limit are waived.