Reading the fine print on good things in small packages

In the beginning, there were tapas. And then there was Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s A.O.C., which took the tapas concept and translated it as “small plates.” Today, “tapas” and “small plates” risk becoming generic buzzwords, marketing hooks that one day will wind up on a T.G.I. Friday’s menu.

Worse, every restaurant seems to have a slightly different definition. Some are about gussied-up pub food — easy-to-eat nibbles meant for the drinking and talking they encourage. Others are more like a tasting menu that’s been cut from its prix fixe moorings. Each has its place when done well, but which small plate is which?

Enter V Life Weekend. While we can’t address our Spanish friends’ complaints that the city offers little in the way of “real” tapas, we can put the plates in their place.

For the Drinking

BEECHWOOD looks like the Rat Pack hang of the 21st century. Most tables in the bar are at knee-level, meant as a perch for cocktails and snacks no larger than your hand. With its low, backless couches and outdoor fire pit, creative seating arrangements are encouraged.
Recommended: toasted shishito peppers, pressed pulled pork sandwich, coconut red curry shrimp.
To drink: martini, straight up (822 Washington Blvd., Venice. 310-448-8884)

MINIBAR is the perfect location for Valley-dwellers to meet with friends from the other side of the hill. The Latin-influenced menu is a complement to the lounge space’s killer cocktails; the greatest AM hits of the ’70s soundtrack is not.
Recommended: duck confit egg rolls, barbecued shrimp with avocado crème fraiche.
To drink: pomegranate mojito (3413 Cahuenga Blvd. West. 310-882-6965)

MUSHA, near the Santa Monica Promenade, offers a lighter take on izakaya, Japanese pub food. Staff is extremely welcoming and private tatami rooms are fun for a group.
Recommended: spicy tuna dip with rice cakes; green bean salad with peanut dressing; Japanese eggplant stuffed with crab.
To drink: sake, of course (424 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. 310-576-6330)

For the Eating

ORRIS is poised to become A.O.C. for the Westside. Only 10 months old, chef Hideo Yamashiro’s restaurant combines the finest ingredients with impeccably professional service.
Recommended: grilled romaine with parmesan; filet mignon with Roquefort butter; ravioli filled with shrimp mousse and shitake mushroom sauce.
To drink: Sauvignon blanc or wheat beer (2006 Sawtelle Blvd. 310-268-2212)

VIOLET puts a haute twist on satisfying American fare. Even grandma and the kids would feel comfortable in the unpretentious, purple-walled room.
Recommended: macaroni with serrano ham and gruyere cheese; lamb chops with English peas, piquillo peppers and toasted almonds.
To drink: tasting flight of alternative red wines. (3221 Pico, Santa Monica. 310-453-9113)

MESON G took over the old Citrus space with a stunning design that lets diners sit at a counter that overlooks the kitchen — a great way to chat with staff and see what looks good. Equally appealing: the airy patio and hip bar.
Recommended: veal hangar steak with sunchokes; hearts of palm salad with snap peas and almonds; Maine diver scallops.
To drink: pinot noir (6703 Melrose. 323-535-1415)

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