There are restaurants that flash in the pan, trending like a summer pop song that wears like white after Labor Day, and then there are fixtures of the culinary landscape; establishments you can set your watch to. These are anchors around which other eateries attach themselves like barnacles, feeding diners while feeding off the other's success, resulting in dining districts worthy of crossing town to reach. Here are a few of my favorite destination restaurants in the area.
Mastro's Steakhouse - Beverly Hills
With nearly a dozen nationwide locations -- more than half in Southern California -- Mastro's has branded the steakhouse the way ranchers brand cattle, that is to say, red hot and sizzling. Long renowned for its selection of the finest cuts of beef, the tradition continues, as I discovered this week, with offerings of Kobe and Wagyu with a hard-to-find (but easy to eat) A-5 grade. The wine list is a joy to read, with a notable list of bottles and by-the-glass reds that are unheard of elsewhere. Classic and craft cocktails are another feature of the bar program, highlighted in my humble opinion, by the Hennessy Sidecar.
If you're looking for some surf with your turf, the signature seafood tower is essentially a raw bar on your table. Customize your order with oysters on the half-shell, lobster tails, crab legs, shrimp so big and fat they can barely be called such, served chilled with a trio of housemade sauces (tartar, cocktail, horseradish). Signature sides are the lobster mashed potatoes and the truffle gnocchi, both decadent and worth whatever workout you have to do the next day. The same can be said of the famous butter cake, although I opted on this last outing for the chocolate sin cake. If only 50 hail Marys would negate the calories, but whatever.
The Beverly Hills space is unique among locations in that it offers a penthouse among its three floors of dress-code dining. The penthouse is a swanky hot spot with a DJ spinning tunes seven nights a week (whereas live music is playing downstairs nightly). The crowd skews a little younger and the bartender a tad sexier. As if that weren't enough, sushi is on the menu in this upper dining room.
Michael's on Naples - Long Beach
Located in far-off Long Beach, Zagat's number-one rated restaurant in the city is the definition of destination dining. And if you like classic Italian cuisine with farmers market ingredients, this joint is well worth the jaunt. An intimate bar is the ideal locale to perch and slip into a negroni before settling into a booth in the elegant dining room or on the upstairs patio, taking in live music. GM Massimo Aronne works the room like an old-school maitre d', making sure guests are enjoying themselves, while an attentive staff does likewise. And with Aronne's hand-curated selection of Old World wines, why wouldn't they be?
Exec Chef David Coleman makes his pasta from scratch in the kitchen each day, demonstrating an attention to detail in his recipes that manifest on the plate. The Ravioli di Funghi is a case in point: tender forest mushrooms and Ricotta stuff the delicate pasta casing, bathed in brown butter and lemon sauce. The Spaghetti con Aragosta is equally well-crafted, with pasta noodles rolled by hand in a light sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, white wine, roasted cloves of garlic and Calabrian peperoncino for a touch of spiciness, and then topped with a pair of Maine lobster tails.
For me, nothing polishes off a hearty Italian meal like a delicious affogato, in which I get my sugary burst of vanilla ice cream and a wake-me-up of espresso. And in true Italian fashion, I partook in a glass of grappa, which I find to be hit-or-miss. This one, a vintage Sassicaia, picked out with care by the sommelier, Roy, was a definite hit. In fact, his wine pairings throughout the evening were all dialed-in rather than phoned-in. Nothing at this joint is phone in but reservations.
Providing spectacular views of the Pacific and even better views of the beautiful people, BOA Steakhouse in Santa Monica has been the gold standard of celebrity hot-spots west of the 405 ever since the doors of this branch opened more than a decade ago.
The glass-encased dining room in this 5,500-square-feet space remains one of the most stylish of the IDG restaurants -- and that is saying something, considering the luxurious spaces in the brand's portfolio. With innovative takes on classic cocktails, the lounge/bar is as classy as it gets in this beach community, and this is one of the few establishments here in which locals will ditch their flip-flops for fancier footwear.
Famed for prime Omaha beef, including the oh-my-god 40-Day Dry-Aged New York Strip, BOA also offers premium American Wagyu. The ever-popular steakhouse is also renowned for housemade sauces and dry rubs, as well as a full complement of traditional sides. The Wine Spectator award-winning wine list is the perfect accompaniment to this impressive selection of meat cuts, with a fabulous showcase of reds from here and abroad, displayed lovingly in a central glass-enclosed cellar, of course.
A popular lunch destination, BOA features a wide array of salads and sandwiches, as well as special-of-the-day entrées, such as Monday's Wild Mushroom Quiche, for example, or Thursday's Southern Fried Chicken. Tuesday's Prime Rib French Dip topped with Gruyere is a masterpiece, served with a side of French onion soup rather than au jus.
A signature soup, meanwhile, is the Sweet Corn with chunks of juicy crab and herbaceous chives -- top it with a little fresh-cracked pepper to make it sing. And for a symphony of flavors, look no further than the Goat Cheese Baklava appetizer, which harmonizes flaky pastry with creamy goat cheese, topped with crushed pistachios.