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Say the magic word

For years regulars at In-N-Out have known they don’t have to stick to the burger chain’s menu. Say you want it “animal style,” and mustard will be fried into the patty, which will be topped with sauteed onions. Or ask for a “4-by-4" and you’ll get four patties and four slices of cheese on your bun.

But In-N-Out hardly has a monopoly on secret menu items. A number of local restaurants, from swanky dining rooms like the Restaurant at the Hotel Bel-Air to casual breakfast spots like the Griddle Cafe in Hollywood, offer dishes you won’t find in writing or included in the waiter’s recitation of specials.

At the new modern Asian restaurant Yi, for example, chef Rodelio Aglibot has several secret dishes up his jacket sleeve. “Tuna and taro,” a mixture of minced raw tuna, jalapeno and smelt eggs, is finished with a scallion-sesame dressing and then wrapped in mashed taro dough that fries up crisp.

“It’s almost like an empanada,” he says.

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How do diners even know this is available? “It’s one of those things where I’ll go out [to a table] and meet certain people and say, ‘Have you tasted this?’ ” Aglibot says. “Then they’ll say, ‘Can you order it?’ That’s how it will start.”

Even before the restaurant opened, Aglibot knew this was something he wanted to do. “People always like things cooked specially for them,” he says. “People love to be in the know, so it’s playing into that whole concept. Also, it allows me to do things that maybe don’t appeal to everybody.”

The Grill on the Alley started making fried chicken at the request of a regular many years ago, and word about it slowly spread. But it has never appeared on the menu, and you have to call a day in advance to order it. That’s because it’s par-baked the night before, then marinated in buttermilk overnight. The chicken pieces are dredged in flour and Cajun spices -- chef John Sola is tight-lipped about the details -- and pan-fried.

Steak tartare has been off and on the menu at the Hotel Bel-Air since the 1940s. For the last few years, it’s been off. But that doesn’t stop its fans.

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Ask for it, and it arrives on a special silver platter for a tableside presentation. You can say how much Tabasco or mustard you’d like, two of the dozen or so garnishes served with the finely hand-chopped tenderloin.

Los Angeles’ most secret menu item might be the “special” French toast at the Griddle Cafe: two thick slabs of golden French toast topped with crumbles of cinnamon sugar and a ball of slip-sliding butter.

To get it, you need a password. (Sorry, we’re sworn to secrecy.) And to get the password, owner Jodi Hortze insists diners try the French toast from the menu first, which is finished with the more traditional powdered sugar. Only then can they graduate to the other.

-- Leslee Komaiko

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Small bites

* Alex Scrimgeour is closing his restaurant, Alex, and returning to his native London. “My wife is pregnant and we’re expecting our first child and she’s English as well. That’s a large part of the reason,” says Scrimgeour, who before Alex’s opening in January 2002 had cooked at Stars in San Francisco and Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas. Another reason for the move is Scrimgeour’s plan to open a restaurant in central London in Battersea Power Station.

Tim Goodell, chef-owner of Aubergine in Newport Beach and more recently chef and then consultant at Whist at the Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, is in escrow on the Melrose Avenue Alex property. “I terminated my deal with the Viceroy last month,” Goodell says. “And I’ve been looking for a space in L.A. forever. This is finally a place I feel comfortable.” Goodell is keeping mum on his plans, other than to say he hopes to open by Nov. 1.

The final meal at Alex, a multi-course prix fixe dinner priced at $95 per person, is set for Saturday, Aug. 28. That night, all the wine will be half price. “We’re going to go out with a bang,” Scrimgeour says.

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Alex, 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5233.

* Scooter Kanfer, whose Melrose Avenue restaurant, the House, closed last fall, is now pastry chef for Falcon in Hollywood and sister restaurant Pearl Dragon in Pacific Palisades. Kanfer is also working with two partners on a 24-hour diner concept called the Waffle, expected to open later this year on the Westside.

Falcon, 7213 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 850-5350. Pearl Dragon, 15229 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, (310) 459-9790.

* It’s been a long time coming, but Amuse Cafe has finally been approved for a beer and wine license. Chef-owners Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts plan to roll out a compact but far-reaching list of libations by Aug. 11, at which time the restaurant’s hours will change. They’ll serve dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, and brunch Fridays through Sundays.

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Amuse Cafe, 796 Main St., Venice, (310) 450-1956.


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