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FRESH

S. Irene Virbila is The Los Angeles Times restaurant critic.

Southern California’s always surprising restaurant scene was particularly inventive this past year, filled with fresh faces, new ideas and wonderful, spirited food. Restaurateurs are trying out new concepts, inventing genres and taking chances with design. And a new generation of chefs is opening up the kind of places they’d like to go to with their friends-- casual and fun, but still serious about food. Priced out of prime real estate, they’ve discovered Culver City, Hollywood and other unexpected neighborhoods, reconfiguring once-neglected areas as dining destinations. As a result, people are happily eating closer to home, and at the same time paying more attention to what is truly local. Eating out in L.A. has never felt so fresh and new.

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Eric Greenspan

FINE DINING WITH SIMPLICITY AND FOCUS

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Ever since Eric Greenspan left his position as opening executive chef at the late Meson G in 2005, he’s been planning to open his own place. A former executive chef at Patina, he didn’t want anything too formal or stiff. In fact, he calls what he does at the Foundry on Melrose “fine dining for the everyday man.” The restaurant is casual and lively, with an airy enclosed back garden outfitted with leather banquettes and a fireplace. Upfront, there’s live music five nights a week, and soon a live webcam will capture the action in the kitchen. All this is fine and dandy, yet in terms of the cooking, Greenspan’s technique, honed in the kitchens of David Bouley, Ferran Adria and Alain Ducasse in New York, has a new simplicity and focus. For one thing, the 32-year-old New Jersey native is working with a small menu to better reflect the seasons and whatever inspires him at the moment. It could be supple little raviolis with quail egg, fava beans and Parmesan foam; wild salmon with white asparagus and radishes in a Meyer lemon sauce; or braised pork belly paired with soft scrambled eggs. He’s got a sweet little wine list and one of the best cheese selections in town too. His new place has charged him up, and his cooking is now more personal than anything he has previously done.

THE FOUNDRY ON MELROSE

7465 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323 651-0915

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FRESH TAKES

Rethinking favorites from around the world

SOBA NOODLES

At Gonpachi, a handsome new Japanese restaurant, a soba master works in a small glassed-in room. Using buckwheat flour he grinds himself, he kneads the blue-gray dough into a smooth ball. The next day he rolls it out like a bolt of cloth, and then, with a special knife, cuts it into fine strands. The square-cut noodles have a wonderfully firm texture and fresh flavor. They’re best served chilled on a bamboo mat, with a dipping sauce dosed with grated daikon and a dab of wasabi. Or you can have them served with warm duck broth as a dipping sauce. Once you’re done, a server will bring out a teapot containing the cooking water, which is filled with nourishing minerals and vitamins. You pour it into the dregs of the dipping sauce to make a soothing soup. Gonpachi, 134 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 659-8887. Soba dishes, $7.50 to $12.50.

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CRUDO CRAZE

Sal Marino, chef-owner of Il Grano in West Los Angeles, is smitten with crudo. In fact, he was the first in Los Angeles to adopt the Italian way of eating raw fish. With a glass of Pigato from Liguria or a Txakolina from the Spanish Basque country, his fantasia di crudo di mare is a perfect way to start a meal here. Next might be slivers of the dark red loin and pale belly of bluefin tuna on a slaw of celery root and daikon radish. Try the stunning Japanese octopus carpaccio with a raw scallop and bottarga of the sea (gray red mullet roe) and the earth (dehydrated egg yolk) shaved over. Here’s a chef who’s found his metier. Il Grano, 11359 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles; (310) 477-7886. Fantasia di crudo di mare, $21. Catch, the new restaurant in Hotel Casa del Mar, has caught up to the crudo craze too, with a special section of the menu devoted to sushi and sashimi as well as Asian-accented crudo preparations such as shima aji (yellowjack) with ginger juice and mustard oil or kampachi with sea beans, aged soy and sherry. Catch Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Hotel Casa del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica; (310) 581-7714. Crudo, $6 to $20.

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25lbs. Bluefin tuna crudo served at Il Grano per week

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COOL PIZZA

The wood-burning ovens at Pizzeria Mozza are fired up to 750 degrees, so that each of the hand-stretched pies comes out of the oven bubbly at the edges. It took months of research and working with the ovens for Nancy Silverton, the genie behind La Brea Bakery, to develop her distinctive dough. The 15 or so pizzas on the menu are terrific, but especially her squash-blossom pizza with a smear of tomato sauce. Once it comes out of the oven, Silverton finishes it with dollops of cool, creamy burrata cheese. Pizzeria Mozza, 641 N. Highland Ave.; (323) 297-0101. Squash blossom, tomato and burrata pizza, $15.

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GREAT GREENS

When two chefs and a food-and-beverage director from the world of luxe hotels put their heads together, they came up with a fresh fast-food concept: salads made to order. At tender greens, featuring produce from Oxnard grower Scarborough Farms, take your pick of spinach with goat cheese and hazelnuts in a Cabernet vinaigrette, a grilled chicken Cobb with Point Reyes blue cheese and applewood bacon, or roughly a dozen more. Tender Greens, 9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 842-8300. Salads, $5 to $10.

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MIXED MEZZE

A sea breeze. A beach town. The pleasure of mezze and Greek food. Petros Benekos dispenses with the kitsch and delivers an array of delicious small plates to savor with glasses of ouzo or top-notch Greek wines. Indulge in calamari with lemon and olives, grilled octopus with vinegar, olive oil and oregano or sesame-crusted feta. Petros Greek Cuisine and Lounge, 451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach; (310) 545-4100. Mezze, $8 to $14.

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JASON TRAVI

A NEW SPIN ON RUSTIC FRENCH AND ITALIAN FARE

Jason Travi is known as a workhorse. The 32-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York cooked at Spago for three years under executive chef Lee Hefter, then left in 2005 to become chef de cuisine at La Terza under Gino Angelini. He worked up his pasta skills there, but his other dishes still seemed influenced by Spago. This spring, though, Travi broke out of the chef de cuisine mold and opened Fraiche in Culver City, an exuberant, sprawling, Mediterranean restaurant with a broad sidewalk terrace. With nobody to please but himself--and avid diners, of course--the burly young chef is showing new confidence and polish with a menu of rustic French and Italian dishes. You can taste it in the tortelli stuffed with braised rabbit and artichokes, lamb spezzatino served with fluffy ricotta gnocchi or branzino (striped bass) with corn, clams and violet potatoes in parchment paper. In the open kitchen, he works alongside his crew, his head wrapped with a red bandana like everyone else’s. His wife, Miho, is there, too, turning out beguiling pastries such as Paris-Brest with almond praline, or a chiffon cake roulade with strawberry mousse and rose ice cream. Fraiche puts a fresh spin on L.A.-Mediterranean.

FRAICHE

9411 Culver Blvd.

Culver City

(310) 839-6800

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FRESH SPACES

Restaurants where you can enjoy great food and the great outdoors

DIVE ‘N’ DINE

Picture a California icon, a rectangle of perfect turquoise, sky overhead, the lights of the city beyond. Two heads bobbing like sleek seals across its length. This is the outdoor pool and lounge at Blue Velvet, a surprising restaurant downtown just west of the 110 Freeway in an old Holiday Inn turned apartment complex. At dusk, the candlelit space, designed by the uber-hip firm Tag Front, comes into its own. Some nights there’s a DJ, but the inventive cocktails and globe-trotting bar food from chef Kris Morningstar are reason enough to visit. Drop in for sauteed shrimp with popcorn sauce, adorable little Monte Cristo sandwiches, Indian-spiced lamb skewers and Thai shrimp toasts. Best to share? Any of the flatbreads, a close relative of pizza. The Spanish version is topped with olive and pepper puree and Idiazabal cheese from the Basque country, the caprese with smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic drizzled with lime balsamic syrup. This is one hip venue where the food really delivers. Blue Velvet, 750 S. Garland Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 239-0061. Lounge menu, $8 to $12.

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Warming Trend

Come winter, come summer, dine outside on the terrace at Sapphire Laguna sheltered by marigold-orange umbrellas and warmed by the contemporary equivalent of a beach campfire. The firepit is a long rectangle filled with sparkly glass shards and dancing flames that keep the chill at bay. Order a steely Chablis and the kitchen’s own potato chips strewn with rosemary, sage and sea salt. Chef-owner Azmin Ghahreman’s menu covers the globe, dancing from Indonesian duck satay to an all-American chicken pot pie under a beautiful flaky crust. The crowd is casual, and if you want to have your dinner on the beach, there’s a gourmet shop with charcuterie and cheeses next door. Sapphire Laguna, 1200 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; (949) 715-9888. Dinner entrees, $23 to $29.

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270: Diners who gather nightly at Sapphire Laguna

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French Accents

If Joe Pytka is ready to reopen Bastide in mid-July, as he says, then it’s good news for outdoor dining. The garden here is such a civilized space, with a handful of tables draped in luxe linens set out under two old olive trees. The new chef is Walter Manske, who was executive chef at L’Auberge and Bouchee in Carmel, and before that at Patina. Pytka is playing it close to the vest, but we do know that the restaurant (and its wine list) will no longer be strictly French. We also know that after six years (one and a half of them on hiatus), the romantic little house on Melrose Place needed sprucing up. That’s being overseen by Andree Putman, the French design doyenne who gave Bastide its wildly chic original look. Bastide, 8475 Melrose Place, West Hollywood; (323) 651-5950.

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SAMIR MOHAJER

A WELL-HONED MEDITERRANEAN VIBE

Santa Monica is awash with glitzy hotel restaurants and trendy sushi bars and steakhouses. But until this year, it had nothing like Rustic Canyon. The unpretentious wine bar and restaurant is just what the neighborhood needed--someplace to drop in for a glass of wine and a bite after work, or to settle in for a long evening with friends. The menu is solid, mostly Mediterranean cuisine from Iranian-born chef Samir Mohajer, who grew up in Los Angeles and attended the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. He was cooking French and Moroccan food at the Little Door before Rustic Canyon owner Josh Loeb hired him. Here, the 30-year-old now gets the chance to cook his way through the entire Mediterranean if he likes. The food has a natural homey vibe that matches the focus on top-notch produce and other ingredients from local farms. Stop in for plates to share, such as Mohajer’s salad of mixed baby beets, toasted hazelnuts and Onetik cheese with blood-orange avocado oil, or a delightful mixed Moroccan salad plate with grilled flatbread and a bright-tasting homemade harissa. The burger is seared in a cast-iron skillet, and the Niman Ranch flatiron steak comes with horseradish slaw and golden hand-cut fries. The dishes aren’t revolutionary, just uncommonly well-prepared with uncommonly good ingredients. Come to think of it, it’s exactly the kind of food many chefs would make for themselves on their night off--uncomplicated and direct.

RUSTIC CANYON, 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 393-7050

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FRESH IDEAS

DINING INNOVATIONS THAT GUARANTEE A SMILE

MIX MASTER

At the new Ketchup-themed lounge and restaurant on the Sunset Strip, slide into a boat-sized white vinyl booth with your posse. Check out the funky decor--an image of ketchup splatter silk-screened on the glass divider, tomato-red globe lights that give the room a louche glamour, tomatoes in glass vases instead of flowers. While you’re perusing the diner menu replete with “barking dogs” (a quartet of miniature Kobe beef hot dogs) and sliders (more of the fashionable beef made into petite burgers), a comely drinks sommelier will wheel a cart stocked with cocktail-making supplies to your table. Hands and bottles flying, she’ll make classic or wacky cocktails like a magician showing off card tricks. Your very own bartender--kind of cute, you must admit. Ketchup, Sunset Millennium, 8590 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 289-8590. Cocktails, $12.

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HIP SOUTHERN FOOD

Any day now, Larkin’s should finally open in Eagle Rock. The reason we’re so excited is that it’s not Mediterranean or Italian or Asian fusion. It’s a fresh new concept . . . updated Southern soul food in a quaint Craftsman house that dates from 1911. We’re told it has a wraparound porch, and brunch there would be something, especially if it means beignets. Larkin’s, 1496 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 254-0934.

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GLOBAL EATING

Since Josef Centeno took over the stoves at Opus Restaurant next to the Wiltern Theatre, he’s given one of Koreatown’s best-kept secrets a nudge in an unexpected direction. A tireless experimenter, Centeno is attracting a foodie crowd for his tasting menus and innovative bar food. Now he’s using Tuesday nights to whip up “bacos,” his name for what he calls global tacos, a cross between a pizza, a flatbread and a taco. Take a seat at the bar and wrap your taste buds around his original baco of short-rib carnitas and pork belly or one stuffed with braised duck and quince aioli. His latest fave? New Zealand reef fish with pickled red cabbage and garlic-chive dressing. Opus Restaurant, 3760 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 738-1600. Bacos, $8.

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COLD STORAGE

When it gets warm outside, cool off at Vodbox at Nic’s in Beverly Hills. It’s basically a glass-walled walk-in freezer filled with a czar’s ransom in premium vodka. Owner Larry Nicola has amassed 60 vodkas and displays them like art glass. What’s fun is that the Vodbox is also a tasting room. A vodka sommelier will hand ladies a faux leopard- fur jacket and gentlemen an old-fashioned uptown coat to venture inside. (It’s 20 degrees in there!) You get 20 minutes to taste your way through two or three flights of vodka before it’s time to make way for the next reservation. Nic’s, 453 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 550-5707. Two flights, $21; three flights, $30.

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30: Bottles of vodka consumed Friday nights at Vodbox

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SUGAR RUSH

Las Vegas chef Kerry Simon brings a little va-va-voom to the once-staid Sofitel hotel. His menu at Simon LA plies guests with his take on American comfort food, including crispy Gulf shrimp and the burger that won Simon the Iron Chef competition on TV. But he’s also got something guaranteed to tease out the little kid in everyone. Sooner or later, a waiter will glide through the dining room bearing Simon’s signature “junk food sampler.” Crowned with a swirl of cotton candy, it’s got everything--Rice Krispies squares, pink coconut snowballs with a heart of chocolat, warm chocolate-chip cookies and--to be safe--oatmeal cookies. Suddenly, one of your guests is sporting a cotton candy beard. Another is fashioning a handlebar mustache. And as soon as the table has demolished the entire platter of sweets, the sugar rush kicks in. Who knew there was this much fun to be had at the corner of La Cienega and Beverly boulevards? Simon LA, Sofitel Los Angeles, 8555 Beverly Blvd., (310) 358-3979.

Junk food sampler, $25.

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FLORENT MARNEAU

BEGUILING FRENCH BISTRO FARE

Florent Marneau started cooking school in France when he was 13, yet Marche Moderne, which the 38-year-old chef and his wife Amelia opened this spring in Costa Mesa, is his first place on his own. For the last nine years, he headed the kitchen at Pinot Provence. Before that he was at Patina, Aubergine and Pascal in Newport Beach, so the Fontainebleau native has spent more than his fair share of time in someone else’s restaurant. At his new bistro in South Coast Plaza, the chef works center stage in the open kitchen, sliding tarts into the wood-burning oven and sending out cast-iron casseroles with his superb short ribs, rabbit braised coq au vin style or a scallop tagine embroidered with Moroccan spices. Marneau’s cooking looks forward and backward at the same time. He buys the best ingredients, yet always adds some beguiling twist that catches your attention. It’s also a classic French bistro with great charcuterie and cheeses, pretty salads and moules or steak frites. Like most family-owned bistros in Paris, this one is a mom-and-pop affair. Amelia is an accomplished pastry chef, as well as a warm presence in the dining room. That Marche Moderne is already so excellent is because Marneau is behind the stove every day--and it’s open seven days a week. Is there another place in all of Southern California where you can eat in such authentic French fashion? Worth a detour, as the Michelin inspector would say. And worth every penny in gas.

Marche Moderne, 3333 Bristol St., No. 3003, Costa Mesa 714 434-7900

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FRESH PLACES

NEIGHBORHOOD CAFES WITH SIMPLE SOPHISTICATION

BOHO BAKERY

Hans Rockenwagner is back in Venice with his new 3 Square Cafe + Bakery not far from where the original Rockenwagner was located. In a bright, contemporary space that includes a take-out shop and bakery, he’s turning out three squares a day for a boho beach-going crowd-- updated huevos rancheros and cinnamon-scented German apple pancakes slathered with creme fraiche for breakfast, his famous pretzel burgers or sandwich samplers at lunch, and rustic comfort food, including his signature crab souffle with lobster-butter sauce, for dinner. The mood is laid back, and if you claim a table on the terrace, you’ll have a front seat for the highly entertaining scene. 3 Square Cafe + Bakery, 1121 Abbot Kinney, Venice, (310) 399-6504. Entrees $7 to $18.

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3,000: Pounds of flour used by 3 Square Cafe + Bakery per week

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CASUAL CHIC

Neal Fraser hit one out of the ballpark when he and his wife, Amy Knoll Fraser, opened BLD just down the street from Grace, his more serious contemporary American restaurant. The name BLD stands for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it didn’t take more than a few weeks for the neighborhood to turn it into an all-day cafe. Mornings, regulars hanker after the flaky cream cheese chive biscuits, plate-sized ricotta blueberry pancakes and house-cured salmon with pickled onions and heirloom tomatoes. Come lunch, look for very Italian charcuterie, a well-edited cheese selection, graceful salads and burgers of every kind, including Berkshire pork and the ever-virtuous turkey. Dinner adds a do-it-yourself option: pick one main, add two sides and a sauce. And always, there is a user-friendly wine list. BLD, 7450 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 930-9744. Dinner entrees $15 to $26.

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TROPICAL BLOOM

Frenchmen Arnaud Palatan and Jean Louis Bartoli have come up with an easygoing cafe called Bloom. Set on a scruffy stretch of Pico Boulevard in a cheery Modernist space decorated in punch-drunk tropical colors, they’re dispensing a wholesome, mostly organic menu that starts with breakfast and one of the best cafe au laits in town. Order a stack of pancakes, some apple-smoked bacon and farm-fresh eggs cooked any way you like. The juice is fresh-squeezed, and they make their own luscious mixed-berry jam. Just added next door: a pizza joint and take-out dispensing 10- or 18-inch thin-crusted pies. Lovely salads too. Bloom Cafe, 5544 W. Pico Blvd. (at Curson Avenue), Los Angeles; (323) 934-6900. $10 to $17.

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SMALL PLEASURE

SQUARE ONE, a tiny cafe on Fountain, may look unassuming, but it’s a real treasure. Chef-partners Robert Lee and Hayden Ramsey worked in top-notch places, both here and in New York, before opening this breakfast and lunch spot. On weekends, it’s impossible to resist the warm, yeasty pecan coffeecake fresh from the oven. There’s also sophisticated eggs Benedict made with a potato pancake and house-cured salmon instead of the usual English muffin and ham. Pressed sandwiches are tempting too, especially the smoked ham with cheese and aioli. An affordable cafe with smart cooking? Every neighborhood should be so lucky. Square One, 4854 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 661-1109. $7.25 to $12.50.

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SWIRL TALK

And then there’s LOU, the neighborhood wine bar stealthily situated in a strip mall on Vine just north of Melrose. Inside are chic banquettes, as well as a short and sweet menu of charcuterie, cheeses and salads, plus a meat dish and an alternative for vegetarians. Owner Lou Amdur focuses the wine offerings in a different, always intriguing direction every few weeks. And on Mondays, he holds forth at prix fixe wine dinners. Lou, 724 N. Vine St., Los Angeles; (323) 962-6369. Prix fixe wine dinner, $45.

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CAFE DINING

The most coveted seats at Canele in Atwater Village are at the large communal table in the front window. New parents are showing off their baby to an aunt or two at one end of the table, while a couple on a date is seated at the other end. The food comes--shrimp and avocado salad sparked with lime, cilantro and chile, dandelion salad in a piquant vinaigrette, herb-roasted rack of lamb, a simple omelet--any one of which may inspire someone at the table to order more of the same. Chef-owner Corina Weibel cut her chops at Campanile and Lucques, while her partner Jane Choi used to work the front of the house at Balthazar in New York. Together, they’ve created a tribute to farmers’ market ingredients and simple, sensual cooking. Canele, 3219 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 666-7133. Dinner entrees $9 to $22.

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FRESH LOOKS

A STRIKING NEW EMPHASIS ON RESTAURANT DESIGN

The Light Fantastic

Surely it’s time to move on from the flotillas of votive candles that have lighted trendy restaurants and clubs for years. Yet there they still are, floating along walls, sitting on windowsills and dancing across tables. Some smart designers, though, are daring to snuff the little candles in favor of . . . chandeliers. Celadon, left, has it both ways, with rows of votives encircling the dining room and an inventive chandelier made from hollowed-out ostrich eggs that’s as dramatic and playful as chef Danny Elmaleh’s Asian fusion cooking. Romanov, an opulent Russian-themed steakhouse in Studio City, features an elaborate crystal and mosaic chandelier by Armenian artist Levon Karsyan. And at Hatfield’s, Karen and Quinn Hatfield’s modern American restaurant, an aluminum rod hung with Swarovski crystals adds understated glamour to the sophisticated small restaurant.

Celadon, 7910 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (323) 658-8028

Romanov, 12229 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 760-3177

Hatfield’s, 7458 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 935-2977

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Beach Chic

L.A. design firm Franklin Studios’ latest project is Abode, the new American restaurant tucked behind Tengu (which partners Frank X. Medrano and Steven Brabson also designed). They’ve given it a sophisticated supper-club gloss with chocolate leather booths, black walnut tables and high-backed burnt-tangerine leather chairs. Long, sheer linen curtains neatly divide the dining room, which is lighted by sculptural hanging lamps with curved metal petals. If these two have anything to say about it, urban beachside chic is the next new thing. Abode, 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 394-3463.

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Sitting Witty

French designer Philippe Starck produced something witty and sly for Katsuya Uechi’s sushi restaurant Katsuya. The walls are hung with giant photo murals of two flirtatious eyes, a cupid-bow mouth, a tattooed shoulder--an alluring Japanese woman, deconstructed. Starck’s fanciful seating is just as arresting. At the front of the restaurant, he gathered demure two-seater white leather sofas, where Brentwood’s finest can flirt and gossip while downing slivers of toro or the chef’s signature spicy tuna on crispy rice. Katsuya, 11777 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 207-8744.

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Eye Appeal

Chef-owner Michael Cimarusti of Providence has an eye for detail. It’s there in the way each course in his seafood tasting menus is plated. It’s there when you sit down and notice the whimsical beaded candle shades that look like sea anemones. It’s there in the beautifully shaped containers that hold sea salt and a tiny scoop. It’s an elegant setup, like everything else at this contemporary seafood restaurant. Providence, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 460-4170.

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Paper Pusher

The paper placemat at Bin 8945, a new West Hollywood wine bar, is a piece of trompe l’oeil so realistic that you reach for your fork and suddenly realize that it’s just an image of a fork, complete with shadow. The same goes for the plate and other flatware; the illusion is complete with a realistic-looking wine stain where the glass would be. Fortunately, there’s plenty of the real stuff. Owner-manager David Haskell has amassed a wine list deep in vintages and obscure appellations, which makes dining here under the new chef Michael Bryant (late of Norman’s) even more fun. Bin 8945,

8945 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 550-8945.

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L.A. Glam

It’s unusual when a world-class architect deigns to design a restaurant, but when Richard Meier heard that his friend Wolfgang Puck was planning a new steakhouse, CUT, he offered to help create something sleek and minimalist inside the ornate Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Meier created a transparent mesh shell inside the wall of French windows that curve around the dining room. Surfaces are white, the tables bare. The comfortable Eames Aluminum Group chairs are covered in a black mesh that supports the back with an innovative suspension system. They also swivel, the better to check out the A-list stars tucking into Wagyu beef steaks or sharing a lavender and honey-scented rotisserie duckling for two. Cut, Beverly Wilshire hotel, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-8500.

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72: Eames chairs soothe diners’ backs at Cut

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FRESH STARTS

NOT MANY NEW YORK CHEFS HAVE VENTURED TO L.A. TO OPEN A RESTAURANT. BUT THIS YEAR, WE’VE GOT THREE BIG ONES COMING. IT CAN ONLY BE A GOOD THING: NEW CONCEPTS, NEW FLAVORS AND NEW FACES.

Osteria Mozza

At the end of the pizza counter at Pizzeria Mozza, a pair of orange clogs is set out, waiting for someone to fill them. That someone is New York’s most famous Italian chef and food TV personality Mario Batali, who is opening Mozza, part two, next door to Pizzeria Mozza in mid-July. Like the pizzeria, Osteria Mozza is a collaboration among Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joe Bastianich. Though anticipation is at a fever pitch, Molto Mario will not be behind the stoves. The menu will be pure Silverton, with input from chef Matt Molina. But you can expect the big guy in the orange clogs to drop in from time to time. Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 297-0100.

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Craft Los Angeles

Tom Colicchio, chef-owner of Craft and Craft Steak in New York and a number of other locales, is giving CAA and ICM agents a new power lunch spot in restaurant-poor Century City, where both agencies recently moved. The 300-seat restaurant, slated to open in mid-July, includes an 80-seat terrace overlooking a four-acre park. The menu will be similar to Craft menus in New York and Dallas. Craft Los Angeles, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City.

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BLT Steak

French chef Laurent Tourondel, lauded for the high-end and now shuttered Cello in New York, moved into the steakhouse arena in 2004 with BLT (Bistro Laurent Tourondel), a cross between a traditional steakhouse and a French bistro. In early fall, he’ll open his fourth in the series (the others are in New York, Washington and San Juan, Puerto Rico) in the old Le Dome space on the Sunset Strip. The beef may well be magnificent, but we’re all waiting to taste his signature giant popovers. BLT Steak, 8720 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 360-1950.


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