Conspicuous Consumption

Anne Beatts writes a regular humor column, "Beatts Me!" for The Times' Sunday Life & Style section. Her last piece for the magazine was about the mystique of eyes

There's no people like show people; they lunch when they are low. Thus almost every restaurant in Los Angeles, including In-N-Out Burgers, is a "Hollywood" restaurant in the sense that some celebrity has probably stopped in at some time in its history. But there's lunch, and then there's Lunch--the kind of meal where at least one of the participants has an agenda, whether it's cutting a cushy studio deal or simply demonstrating that, yes, you can eat lunch in this town again. Knowing who goes where, when and why is a survival tactic in a world where the rule is dine or be dined out on, along with the latest gossip about Anna Nicole Smith.

Celebrities, like herd animals, tend to band together for comfort. Each breed--the stars, the agents, the studio heads--has its favorite watering holes, though they never stray too far afield. Certain establishments enjoy their 15 minutes of fame and then recede faster than Kevin Costner's hairline. Others remain on the Hollywood restaurant star map for decades.

The following is a highly subjective catalog of spots where the elite meet to eat. Like all anthropological studies, it's flawed by the presence of the anthropologist. Would the Samoans have behaved the same way if Margaret Mead hadn't been around to study them? We'll never know.

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SPAGO BEVERLY HILLS: At Spago, everything old is new again, though I'm not positive that applies to the clientele. At lunchtime, it's very much a place for the business of show business. Table-hopping does transpire, but it's relatively subdued--no one wants to interrupt a deal in the making. Marvin Davis has his own special chair, and I can't picture him getting out of it until he's finished eating. At lunch recently, Tony Curtis and Robert Shapiro are at the next table, not far from William Morris chief Norman Brokaw, within hailing distance of mogul Kirk Kerkorian. Polite nods are exchanged all around. It's not a stuffy place, but Spago's renown weighs almost as heavy as the gold jewelry on some of the lunching ladies, all cast in the "Barbie Grandma" mold. Expansion frequently spells death in the restaurant business, but Spago Beverly Hills has survived, perhaps because the service and the food remain consistently good. Spago is every tourist's idea of a "show biz" restaurant. All the more amazing that it actually is a show biz restaurant.

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MORTONS: Mortons is the kind of place where, when Sumner Redstone or Ron Perelman or Frank Biondi shows up, the staff recognizes not only the name on the American Express card but also the face. It's a place where players go to be stroked. One typical Monday, I bump into Marvin Davis again. Jackie Collins and producer George Schlatter huddle a hard roll's toss away, not that you'd dream of tossing a hard roll in today's Mortons. This incarnation has a clubby feel to it, with comfortable banquettes and flattering lighting that's just a little too low to show off the admirable '80s art. Uber-manager Sandy Gallin, producer Leonard Goldberg and his wife, Wendy, and DreamWorks' Dan McDermott often stop in after a hard day of deal-making. If you want to catch Jeffrey Katzenberg, try Tuesdays. Mortons recently pulled together a major Motown anniversary party for Suzanne de Passe on a week's notice--that's the kind of thing you can expect when you're a regular. When Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche attracted a horde of paparazzi, they were protected on their way out by a flying wedge of waiters. Now, that's service.

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2424 PICO: A trendy restaurant in an area where there aren't any, 2424 is a new kid in town that draws a dining crowd as eclectic as its cooking: Michael Keaton, Steven Bochco, Dustin Hoffman and Cindy Crawford have all eaten there, not necessarily together. It's an easy run from Fox for dinner, and if it's the driver's day off, 2424 Pico may be the only in joint that has its own parking lot. On a rainy Friday night, the place is jampacked with young people in damp black with that "I'm-not-famous-yet-but-wait-'til-next-year-at-Sundance" look. If this restaurant had a queen, Parker Posey would be it. The wine list is interesting, the food tries too hard to be, and the service is, shall we say, independent. But should you want to hook up with the next hot young Brit who hasn't been discovered this side of the Atlantic, 2424 could be the place to look.

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ONE PICO: One Pico is in a hotel on the beach, Shutters, which makes it ideal for romantic assignations. Perhaps that's why no one is inclined to name drop. General Manager Seth Horowitz tells me that employees will be "terminated" if they ever so much as breathe a word of who might be dining there. Nonetheless, my personal Deep Throat reveals that privacy-seeking patrons include the Reagans and Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley. English accents chime gently across the beige-on-beige dining room. It's so relaxing I feel I've been sedated. In the lobby bar, over margaritas, music industry types discuss the effect of Madonna's Vogue spread on her latest release. The action, if any, is there. The hotel's own press release describes One Pico's California-style cuisine as "unobtrusive," an adjective that could also be applied to the service. So what's the appeal? If you're from somewhere else, it feels as if you're in L.A.--ocean, palm trees, movie stars. If you're from L.A., it feels as if you're somewhere else.

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LES DEUX CAFES: If you're looking for a scene, Les Deux is one. This is the land of the cell phone, partially shaved heads and multiple piercings--and that's just the wait staff. Sometime scenesters include Joni Mitchell, Rosanna Arquette, Nicole Kidman, Taylor Hackford, Simon Ward, Brian Gibson and Phillip Noyce, who's an investor. This is the perfect place to bring visitors from the other coast who want to add another notch to their restaurant trophy belt--and they won't feel threatened by the neighborhood. Within, there's a pleasantly intimate wood-paneled main room with complexion-enhancing lighting from wall sconces; without, a terrace with heat lamps for those Euro-types who just can't give up their Gauloises. The bar in back has a piano and microphone for "spontaneous" performances by local artistes, such as Billy Zane's sister, Lisa Zane, who performed her doomed-chanteuse routine in both English and French the other night to a Cosmopolitan crowd (the drink, not the magazine). The food is traditional French and the tab is traditional Beverly Hills, a bit of a shocker in a part of Hollywood that many people are afraid to visit. Women like this restaurant. It could be the lighting.

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MIMOSA: Mimosa is a local neighborhood bistro--it's just that some of the habitues are stars: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Joel Silver, James Woods, and my personal god, Billy Wilder. But despite the cheek-kissing, Mimosa doesn't feel like a "Hollywood" restaurant--as co-owner Silvio De Mori points out, "I don't wear a tie." And on summer evenings outside, shielded from the street by shrubs and awnings, next to a pot of lavender, you can almost make-believe you're in Provence. The service is smoothly performed by waiters, not actors. Chef and joint owner Jean-Pierre Bosc's cooking is basic French, featuring such classics as cassoulet, Provenal fish soup and lentil salad--one of my French friends doesn't like to eat there because, she says, "I can make the same thing at home." But I can't.

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AGO: When you're in the mood for a little Italian and feel your heart can't handle another pepper steak at Dan Tana's, this is the place. The packed tables, conversational buzz and fast-paced service give this lively eatery a New Yorkish feel. True to form, native New Yorkers Harvey Weinstein and Robert De Niro are investors, and transplanted New York actors tend to congregate here on Friday nights. Jerry Seinfeld, Peter Weller, Jim Carrey, Rob Lowe and James Woods have also been observed twirling forkfuls of pasta of the kind that Mamma couldn't make. The waiters hand out compliments that make you feel like the American girl walking down a street in Rome in that famous '50s photo. By the time you leave, you'll be making expansive hand gestures. Just take care not to knock over the excellent wine.

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JOZU: People in Hollywood don't necessarily go to restaurants for the food, or Musso & Frank's wouldn't still be in business. But the food at new contender Jozu is so good that diners drive in from Pasadena for Suzanne Tracht's freshly minted California-Pacific cooking. The enticing appetizers present tough choices: fresh oysters, mussels with coconut milk, melt-in-your-mouth crab cakes or house-cured salmon? Evidently, take-charge types such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and CBS head honcho Les Moonves don't have a hard time deciding. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forks up the sea bass in citrus ponzu sauce with his son Amir. "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening likes the string beans with shiitake mushrooms. Jozu's owner is Andy Nakano, who managed Imperial Gardens in its celebrity-stuffed heyday, but when it comes to divulging his client list, he is as discreet as the minimalist decor. At Jozu, the food is more important than which studio head is dining with whom.

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SUSHI ROKU: "Rokku" means rock in Japanese, according to partner Lee Maen, and Sushi Roku rocks, definitely. Music biz patrons include Def Jam's Russell Simmons, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson. Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Dennis Rodman, producer Arnold Kopelson and the ubiquitous Jeffrey Katzenberg have all wrapped their lips around some of the tastiest raw fish in town. At night, the neutral tones of its sparse Asian-chic interior provide the perfect fashion backdrop for young beauties such as Drew Barrymore, Claire Danes, Cameron Diaz and Lisa Kudrow (in alphabetical order), and those who seek them out. Tori Spelling is one of the investors. Who knew she had such good taste?

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SO MANY RESTAURANTS, SO LITTLE TIME: Though I must, a truly serious anthropologist wouldn't stop here. Not without thoroughly researching the subgenre of restaurants in stores, such as Armani Cafe or the rooftop, upscale deli Barney Greengrass in Barneys New York, beloved of agents and Robert Morton. Or the restaurants that people go to because they work in the building, such as Maple Drive, the virtual commissary for Castle Rock. There are restaurant twin-sets, such as Chaya Brasserie and Chaya Venice, the two Reds, the two Ivys, plus the ever-multiplying Pinots. They all hold their charms and, no doubt, a table for Jeffrey Katzenberg. Perhaps I should have my girl call his girl and see if I can set up a lunch.

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