Where To Chow Now And Boast Most Along Coast

Even busy buyers and sellers need to eat – and impress friends, enemies and clients while completing deals.

Now that the American Film Market has moved west to Santa Monica, attendees are faced with a bewildering choice of restaurants along the coast from Malibu to the Marina.

What’s more, Money magazine, which is published in New York, recently named Los Angeles “the single most exciting restaurant city in America.”

That claim may be debatable, but there’s only one way to find out. VARIETY herewith offers an exclusive AFM restaurant guide that includes some of the most highly rated restaurants in the country, as well as the chic, the new and the just plain good.

Don’t forget to make reservations; try to avoid rush-hour traffic; and watch the road when you’re negotiating on the car phone.

MALIBU

Geoffrey’s (Expensive): Best known for an incredible ocean view and wildly inconsistent Californian food.

A former private home that owner Geoffrey Etienne has converted into a truly spectacular setting, with an outdoor terrace, greenhouse dining area and abundance of flowering plants. Peppercorn steaks, seasonal fish fillets and grilled sliced rack of lamb are some of the more imaginative entrees. Even more inspiring is the brunch menu, which ranges from a smoked salmon omelet to an appetizing sausage platter (charcuterie) with an assortment of mustards and sauces.

If you love the ocean or are looking for a charming place to spend a romantic dinner (or Sunday afternoon), go; but be advised unkind critics have suggested that in a perfect world you’d be able to bring your own food.

27400 Pacific Coast Ewy. (213) 457-1519. Lunch 12-4 Monday- Saturday, 10-4 Sunday; dinner 5-10 Monday-Thursday, till 11 Friday-Saturday. Full bar. Reservations advised, especially for brunch. AMEX, DC, MC, V. Casual to semi-dressy.

PACIFIC PALISADES

Lido (Moderate-Expensive): This fine, low-key northern Italian restaurant boasts a battery of handsome young Italian waiters who love to flirt with women of all ages.

There are also some heavenly dishes (food, we mean), including risotto with porcini, gnocchi, potato and flour dumplings, and a tri-pasta specialty plate that will invade your dreams for months afterward. It’s difficult on the patio because the service keeps disappearing; nonetheless, this is a great neighborhood place, definitely worth the trip up the Pacific Coast Highway.

15200 Sunset Blvd. (east of Temescal Cny. at Swarthmore Dr. in outdoor mall) (213) 459-9214. Lunch 12-2:30; dinner 5:30-10: 30 nightly. Reservations advised. All major cards. Casual.

SANTA MONICA

Border Grill (Moderate): A wildly decorated establishment with high-octane margaritas and authentic southern Mexican cuisine.

Seasonal chili rellenos, green corn tamales, soft tacos filled with everything from crab to potatoes and rajas, spicy tongue stew, all served with black beans and small, chewy corn tortillas. Don’t be afraid of the esoteric regional seafood dishes (you like octopus, don’t you?). For dessert, the flan and tequila-lime sherbert get the job done nicely.

Weekend brunches also are noteworthy for huevos con anything (the chorizo is a favorite) and native specialty drinks, such as Mexican hot chocolate. You heard right.

1445 4th St. (213) 451-1655. Lunch 11:30-3 Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-10 Monday-Thursday, till 12 Friday-Saturday, till 10 Sun; brunch 11-3. Full bar, which stays packed on the weekends. Reservations advised. AMEX, MC, V. Casual.

Broadway Bar and Grill (Inexpensive-Moderate): An unpretentious place at the southern end of the new Third Street Promenade (a four-block-long outdoor mall with almost as many movie theaters as Westwood) in downtown Santa Monica.

If you want to watch the mating rituals of beautiful young people dressed in black, you should go across the promenade to the Broadway Deli. But if you want tasty food and ample drink at reasonable prices, come here. Simple, earnest, generous American cuisine; pork and lamp chops, steaks, grilled seafood, pastas. Patio dining. Jazz piano most nights. Massive wine list, and service can get slow, but the whole area is a madhouse.

1460 Third St. Promenade (213) 393-4211. Lunch and dinner 11:30-10 Sunday-Thursday, till 12 Friday-Saturday. Reservations advised, mandatory on weekends. All major cards. Casual.

Chinois on Main (Expensive): Consistently ranked among Los Angeles’ top three restaurants. A Wolfgang Puck original with extraordinary French-California-Japanese-Chinese delicacies, often called the “quintessential California restaurant.”

You could live off the appetizers alone, starting with the warm sweet curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls. Entree winners include swordfish grilled with ginger, orange and mint; grilled Mongolian lamb with spring onions and tofu; and lobster with cabbage rolls and red wine sauce. There is a limited but wonderful wine list, and desserts are a religious experience.

Nor is food the only draw. Puck’s wife and partner, Barbara Lazroff, created the place’s stellar design, a celebration of curves and circles with custom tile work and hard-carved panels. And the crowd, natch, is tres chic.

The downside is that this hotspot is also tres crowded and tres, tres noisy. Not the place to whisper sweet nothings in a buyer’s ear.

2709 Main St. (213) 392-9025. Lunch 11:30-2 Wednesday-Friday; dinner 6-10: 30 Monday-Saturday, 5:30-10 Sunday. Full bar. Reservations required. All major cards. Semi-dressy.

I. Cugini Trattoria (Moderate-Expensive): Centrally located opposite the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier, this restaurant looks like a Tuscan villa and adds a touch of much-needed elegance to an area populated by a large homeless contingent.

At first, critics discounted the menu, claiming it needed “time to mature.” Fortunately, it has done just that during the last six months, with hearty antipastos, traditionally seasoned pizzas, inventive Italian sandwiches (try the Napoli or the Tacchacio) and superb regional pastas. European-style market on the premises.

A loud, pushy bar scene detracts on the weekends. This is a place to eat, not linger.

1501 Ocean Ave. (213) 451-4595. Daily. Breakfast 7:30-10:30 Monday-Friday; lunch 11-4 Monday-Friday, from 11:30 Saturday-Sunday; dinner 4-11 Sunday-Thursday, till 12 Friday-Saturday. Full bar. Reservations required. All major cards. Casual.

Michael’s (Very Expensive – dinner runs about $200 for two): Long considered one of L.A.’s most creative and expensive restaurants, Michael’s has made some changes of late, easting off the shackles of haute nouvelle cuisine (it now classifies itself as New American) and rolling back the prices slightly.

An intimate and charming dining room overlooks a terraced garden of flowering plants, and chef/owner Michael McCarty’s private collection of contemporary art would be the envy of many museums. Appetizers, such as a salad of chicory, hot goat cheese and walnuts vinaigrette, are works of art themselves. Memorable entrees range from breast of chicken with duck liver and morel mushrooms to saddle of lamb with red currant sauce.

One prominent critic called the wine list “a phenomenon of taste and intelligence.” Others, however, have complained about small portions and pervasive pretentiousness.

1147 Third St. (213) 451-0843. Lunch 12-2 Monday-Friday; dinner 6:30-10 nightly; brunch 10:30-2 Saturday-Sunday. Full bar. Reservations required. All major cards. Dressy.

VENICE

Chaya Venice (Moderate-Expensive): Probably the best new addition to Venice’s chic restaurant row, featuring an eclectic Franco-Japanese-Italian menu and primetime people-watching.

The menu features exotic appetizers and soups, seafood paella, delicious medallions of venison (when available), sea bass, and grilled rack of veal with sauteed mushrooms garnished with wild rice. Outstanding wine line is slanted toward California vineyards.

Not quite as self-consciously trendy as its Beverly Hills sister restaurant, but close.

110 Navy St. (213) 396-1179. Lunch 11:30-2:30 Monday-Friday; dinner 6-10:30 Monday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 Sunday, till 11 Friday-Saturday; late-night supper 10:30-12:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday. Oyster bar. Full bar. Reservations required. All major cards. Semi-dressy.

Hal’s (Moderate): Attracts upscale Santa Monica gentry and Venice boho crowd in equal proportions with its very reliable and well-prepared California bar-and-grill fare.

The open, high-ceilinged setting is strikingly decorated with geometric metallic sculptures and immense contemporary paintings. The basics here are great: cobb salad, grilled seafood, one of the best burger-and-fries platters in town. And don’t miss brunch: eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs with salmon and chives, baskets of homemade muffins.

1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (between Venice Blvd. and Main St.) (213) 396-3105. Lunch 11:30-3 Monday-Friday; dinner 6-10:30 Sunday-Thursday, till 11 Friday-Saturday; late-night snack menu 11-1 a.m.; brunch 10-3 Saturday-Sunday. Full bar. Reservations advised. AMEX, MC, V. Casual.

Rockenwagner(Moderate): Another popular Nouvelle French spot, but with some delightful quirks and a considerable cult following.

Chef/owner Hans Rockenwagner displays his deft touch and vivid imagination in many ways: melt-in-your-mouth seafood souffles, pungent lamb, homemade pastas, creamy white asparagus, baked-to-order desserts. Classical music enhances the simple-yet-dignified surroundings, and there’s always the outdoor sculpture garden to enjoy.

1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (213) 399-6504. Dinner from 6 Tuesday-Friday, from 5:30 Saturday-Sunday. Reservations required. MC, V. Casual to semi-dressy.

72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill (Expensive): You’re in L.A. You’re in the biz. You’re at the biggest market in the world, for God’s sake. This is your shot. You admit it – you want chic, L.A. style. You’re in luck here, because “super-chic” is the phrase most often applied to actor/filmmaker Tony Bill’s New American establishment.

Yes, Market Street is still the ultimate place to see and be seen on the West Side, and the food ain’t bad either. Even though some critics have branded it “tragically hip” and griped about the noise, the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and chili perpetually make local “bests” lists. Other favorites include the steamed vegetable plate, charred tuna nicoise and grilled lamb salad. And there’s always a long scroll of daily specials that vary with the seasons. The wine list is extensive, but overpriced.

Co-owner Dudley Moore plays the piano when he’s in town, and film industry patrons abound.

72 Market St. (between Pacific Avenue and the Pacific Ocean) (213) 452-2222. Lunch 11:30-2:30 Monday-Friday; dinner 6-10:30 Sunday-Thursday, till 11:30 Friday-Saturday; brunch 10-2:30. Oyster bar. Full bar. Reservations advised. AMEX, MC, V. Casual to semi-dressy.

St. Mark’s (Moderate): One of the few places in Los Angeles that offers live jazz while you dine, although the good music is degraded by erratic food and service.

The New American-Continental cuisine does hold a few pleasant surprises: filet mignon with green and black peppercorn sauce; grilled swordfish with an orange-honey mustard sauce; and for dessert, a chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce. In fact, you might want to eat dinner elsewhere, then come here for dessert, coffee and jazz.

Caveat emptor: The cover charge is steep.

23 Windward Ave. (213) 452-2222. Dinner 6:30-2 a.m. nightly. Oyster bar. Full bar. Reservations advised. All major cards. Casual.

West Beach Cafe (Expensive): Owner Bruce Marder runs several area bistros (Broadway Deli, Rebecca’s, DCS), but none is as ultra-chic or successful as this one.

West Beach rivals 72 Market Street on several fronts – celeb-watching, food, prices – but somehow comes off as a little more arrogant.

Despite the attitude problem, the food is often excellent and best classified as Nouvelle California. Creative complex entrees: New England scallops in a white fish sauce with pancetta; veal loin served with grilled Italian sausage and an array of delectable vegetables.

The menu here changes weekly, so discuss the specials with your waitperson – if he or she will condescend to do so. Don’t test your willpower by scanning the tantalizing dessert tray. You’ll lose bigtime.

60 N. Venice Blvd. (213) 823-5396. Lunch 11:30-2:45 Tuesday-Friday; dinner 6-10:45 nightly; pizza served 11:30-1 a.m. nightly; brunch 10-2:45 Saturday-Sunday. Full bar. Reservations required. All major cards. Semi-dressy.

MARINA

AngeliMare (Inexpensive-Moderate): Offers the best food in the Marina, which isn’t saying much.

Not the height of gastronomic satisfaction, but the beautiful, high, wood-beamed interior (one reviewer said it resembles “the belly of a whale”), the beautiful people, and the beautiful-looking Italian seafood can leave you in an agreeable trance. Also serves laudable pizzas, pastas and daily specials. Nice wine list with many surprising imports.

13455 Maxella Ave. (east of Lincoln Blvd.) (213) 822-1984. Lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-1: 30 Sunday-Thursday, till 11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Full bar. Reservations advised. AMEX, MC, V. Casual to semi-dressy.

Sakura House (Inexpensive): The best-kept secret in the west – half of Los Angeles.

It looks like another anonymous sushi bar tucked away in another anonymous mall, but it features delicious sizzling skewers of kushiyaki (seafood, beef, chicken and vegetables). Your best bet is to order one of the large combination dinners and sample the wares, but make sure it includes maki (marinated asparagus tips wrapped in a thin sheen of pork) and the garlicky chicken balls. Top it all off with green tea or red bean ice cream. You won’t be sorry.

13362 Washington Blvd. (three blocks east of Lincoln Blvd.) (213) 306-7010. Lunch 11:30-2:00 Tuesday-Friday; dinner 5:30-10:30 Sunday-Thursday, till 11:30 Friday-Saturday. Japanese-style bar. All major cards. Casual.

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