Meals to Remember

Russ Parsons is a Times staff writer

David Wynns

chef, Les Deux Cafes, Hollywood

The best meal I had last year was at Georges Blanc [in Vonnas, France], and it was the breakfast delivered to our room one morning. I was feeling completely stuffed from dinner the night before and didn't want to eat anything, so when my friend ordered breakfast, he ordered only for one. On this beautiful tray were all of these beautiful little Limoges plates: fresh local goat cheese, saucissons secs, pate, some kind of Alsatian coffee cake, the usual croissant and pain chocolat, some little fraises des bois, a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, some country ham and fabulous coffee. Every single thing was the best I ever had. Dinner the night before was very close behind, but there's something about a really great three-star restaurant showing it cares all the way through that was incredible. That and being able to eat it all in bed.

Joe Miller

chef-owner, Joe's Restaurant, Venice

For my birthday last year, my wife and I went to L'Orangerie. I used to work there, back when Peter Roelant and Jean Franiois Meteigner were the chefs, and that kind of three-star French food had a big impact on my cooking. It had been a long time since we had been there, but the style of service is as good as I remember it being when I was there. It's that whole three-star dining experience, which L'Orangerie pulls off really well and not a lot of other restaurants in California do.

For the first course, we had lobster medallions braised with a beurre blanc sauce, served on roasted turnips with a lemon confit. It sounds a bit weird, but when the amounts of each element are right, the balance is there, and it's great. The next course was seared foie gras with baked apple and cider sauce and a compote of figs. Then we had a whole roasted turbot that they brought out on a nice board to present before returning it to the kitchen to be carved. There was a smashed potato-type concoction strongly flavored with lemon curd, and it was sauced with browned chicken juices and a pistachio cream. That really worked. The main course was a duck breast seared and sliced and served with this orange dust made from orange rind that had been dried in the oven and then ground. For dessert, we had the more-or-less basic molten-centered chocolate souffle cake that everyone is doing these days, but this one was quite good.

Yujean Kang

chef-owner, Yujean Kang's, Pasadena and West Hollywood

Last year we spent all the time here, so, to be honest, I didn't go out that much. But I did go to Jozu for the first time. My wife had the marinated grilled pork chop with black rice pancake, and I had a juicy rib eye with Szechuan peppercorn teriyaki. It was interesting because their food is kind of Asian, too, but it's much different from mine. I think our food is more geared to China. It's much closer to what you might find in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Their style is more Western, which I like a lot. It's a very comfortable place to eat, and the food is not pretentious. Most important, the flavor is always there. A lot of restaurants make gimmicks out of food, but I think Jozu's food is very real.

John Rivera Sedlar

Restaurant and beverage consultant and author

My favorite meal last year actually stretched into the first day of this year. A dozen or so friends met at a friend's house overlooking the Pacific in Manhattan Beach--my best friend from New York, a new romantic interest, old friends and new. Everyone brought a bottle of super-premium Champagne to welcome the New Year. We had crusty bread and steamed clams with tons of garlic, then ate Santa Fe red and green chile tamales. Since we were oceanside, I steamed Maine lobsters and served them with a tart green salad. For dessert, we walked across the street to another friend's house, and my new date carefully made chocolate souffles and served them at twilight on the terrace. One friend had brought his acoustic guitar, and we sang Beatles tunes and old rock 'n' roll hits long into the night. I wish that meal could've lasted all year long.

Tara Thomas

Chef, Traxx, Los Angeles

I had just started dating a new fellow around Valentine's Day, and he asked me to his house for dinner. He knew artichokes are my absolutely favorite food, so he made an all-artichoke menu. We started with a stew of baby artichokes with fava beans and shaved Parmesan over the top, then we had big artichokes stuffed with ground sausage and pine nuts. For the main course, we had artichokes with braised baby endive and lamb chops. For me, that was a memorable meal. Here's a guy who has nothing to do with the food business whatsoever--and he's brave and considerate enough to do that. That was a wonderful romantic dinner, and it really won my heart. Do you think I'd let him off the hook after that?

Piero Selvaggio

owner, Valentino, Santa Monica

My best meal this past year was at Mulinazzo, a small restaurant in Sicily just outside Palermo. It has a wonderful chef who has been fighting to prove that even in the suburbs, gastronomy can happen. He just got his first Michelin star. We had a special meal based on all the fresh fish of Sicily. There were sardine meatballs, a beautiful baked pasta with all of the essences of the Mediterranean and the tenderest little cuttlefish. We finished with a triumphant piece of swordfish that he grilled on charcoal outside, family style, and then he baked it again with all kinds of herbs, aromatics, tomatoes and stewed vegetables. Then his wife made a sublime cassata and some wonderful ricotta cannoli that brought back all of those things from my childhood that were supposed to be that way but never were. With the meal, we drank wines from Regaleali--world-class wines from Sicily. I was so proud of this man, who has proved that gastronomy can be done anywhere, no matter what.

Alain Giraud

chef director, Lavande, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Santa Monica

Last year, some friends invited us to a special dinner at Matsuhisa. It was in the private dining room--seven seats facing three chefs, who are cooking only for you. It was unbelievable: the quality of the food, the presentation, the interaction with the cooks. The food was brilliant. I remember the first appetizer came in a small martini glass, and it was a mousse with gold leaf on top and caviar. Then there was a tea with an infusion of very, very dense dry mushrooms. We had maybe 12 small portions, maybe more. The presentations were so precise. It was one of the best meals in my life. I came back and said: "Wow!" It was an experience I will never forget.

Danilo Terribili

owner, Alto Palato, West Hollywood

I had the most fantastic roast chicken last winter at L'Ami Louis in Paris. It was an incredible meal: We had goose liver pate, the roast chicken, a great duck confit, some--come si chiama?--prosciutto di Bayonne? But the chicken was absolutely incredible. I love chicken. As a matter of fact, we do a stuffed roasted chicken on our menu that comes from my mom. It's really good, but I gotta tell you that this chicken was out of this world. The flavor of the wood from the fire . . . it was perfectly cooked and perfectly juicy and had a beautiful, intense flavor.

Neal Fraser

Chef, Rix, Santa Monica

I went with my mother and my girlfriend at the time to Daniel in New York. I made the reservations three months in advance, and still the only time the restaurant would let us in was 5:30. We walked in at 5:30 and the place was packed. But they seated us at a really nice table within five minutes, and from the time we sat down to the time we left, it was like a dream. The service was absolutely correct, and the food was incredible. My mother told our waiter that we were chefs from Los Angeles, and he suggested that they make three separate tasting menus. There were six or seven courses each, and everything was perfect. You never noticed them crumb the table, and no one reached across you. I don't remember everything we ate--there were three different veloute soups, brook trout wrapped in wood-smoked bacon and sage and served with fingerling potatoes. The desserts were just amazing. Everything was quite simple, really, but executed perfectly.

Michael McCarty

Owner, Michael's, Santa Monica

The best meal I had last year I fixed at our house. I did a pasta--sauteed some Manila clams with shallots and white wine and finished that with some butter for the sauce. I steamed one of those big West Coast lobsters, sliced it in big medallions, then finished it on the charcoal grill. Then I shaved white truffles over everything. For the second course, I got these steaks that I call 4-by-4s. They're New York strips cut as thick as they are wide and trimmed of all the fat. I cooked them in a wood-fired oven so they were caramelized on all four sides--just gorgeous. I served that with a black truffle-parsley butter. For dessert: Hagen-Dazs vanilla-chocolate chip, chocolate-chocolate chip and coffee, a combo plate. We ate outside, and it was just one of those perfect January evenings. Great group. Beautiful weather. Great sunset.

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