Critic's Choice: Linger over lunch at these restaurants

Whenever my friend Roberta comes to town, we try to have lunch at Providence on a Friday. That's the only day the Michelin two-star restaurant is open for lunch, in fact. Lunch has a different character than dinner. You tend to talk about different things, maybe because you're more alert at 1 p.m. than at 9. Restaurants are usually less crowded then, so it's quieter. I have a sneaking suspicion that chefs enjoy lunch too, because of that more leisurely pace. I'm not talking about grabbing a sandwich, I mean a meal at a good restaurant.

If you can manage an afternoon off and don't have to worry about rushing back to work, that lunch takes place somewhere outside time. Valentino Friday lunch regulars have been known to linger almost to the dinner hour.



The Santa Monica institution celebrates 40 years(!) this year. My first meal at Valentino was lunch, and it somehow went on for hours. The wines from Piero Selvaggio's celebrated Italian cellar were wonderful. So were the food and the company. And the lunch tradition is still going strong. Chef Nicola Chessa's current menu includes superb prosciutto di Parma aged 24 months and grilled octopus with black Sardinian couscous. Pastas, such as spaghetti with frutti di mare, lasagna with duck ragù or pasta alla Norma with tomato, eggplant, basil and aged ricotta are more exciting than main courses, though I could always eat lamb chops "a scottadito" with crispy potatoes and greens. Dessert should be classic Sicilian cannoli. Bring a designated driver: The wine list is just too tempting.

3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313, Lunch Fridays only, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Entrees, $23 to $46.


Michael Cimarusti attunes his seafood menu to the seasons, so there's always something different. But the Friday lunch menu usually includes his terrific clam fritters with yuzu kosho mayonnaise and his signature white "chowda" made with smoky bacon, Manila clams and creamy clam broth. He might serve chilled wild Dungeness crab from Washington with passion fruit, basil seeds, black olive and macadamia nuts, or butterfly pasta with a medley of seafood — Japanese sword squid, Maine lobster and octopus in a basil and tomato sauce. To note: He'll also do a three- or four-course tasting menu, which has become a proving ground for new dishes. Whatever he's cooking, I'm eating. And trying valiantly to save room for the cheese spread to enjoy with that last bit of wine.

5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 460-4170, Lunch, Fridays only, 12 to 2:30 p.m. Entrees, $21 to $40. Lunch tasting menus, $75 to $80.

Tierra Sur

I don't get out to Oxnard very often, but when I do, I like to stop in for lunch at Tierra Sur, the kosher restaurant inside the Herzog winery there. The young talented chef Todd Aarons cooked at all sorts of places, including Zuni Café in San Francisco, before landing in Oxnard. Though the restaurant is open for lunch every day except Saturday, on Fridays Aarons creates a special lunch menu that's simple but delicious. It starts with salad or a cup of soup, which could be zucchini and spring onion or leek and white lentil. And then comes a sandwich, maybe his LBLT made with the chef's own maple-cured lamb bacon, lettuce and tomato with garlic aioli, or one that features organic salmon hot-smoked over mesquite and slid between two slices of bread with comice pears, watercress and aioli.

3201 Camino del Sol, Oxnard, (805) 983-1560, Lunch Sunday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday lunch, chef's market menu, $18 to $26.