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Ten Best L.A. Bistros in 2006

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A bistro is a café that serves simple meals in a relaxed setting, the kind of place you can go where you don’t have to worry about meeting anyone’s expectations for relative fame or fashionable dress. My favorite places in L.A. this year generally fit this definition.

1. Pazzo Gelato (my review)

Many of my friends look at the dessert menu before they even consider a main course, so let’s start there. After lunch or dinner anywhere in Los Feliz and Silverlake, I recommend a stop at Pazzo Gelato. A broad range of sometimes-unexpected flavors, all smooth, not too sweet, and delicious.

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Pazzo Gelato, 3827 W. Sunset Boulevard, Silverlake

2. Barney Greengrass (my review)

Okay, you’re saying, this is a highfalutin’ deli and power luncheonette straight from New York, not a bistro. Au contraire; Barney Greengrass, at the top of Barney’s in Beverly Hills, is the place to sample superior smoked fish in an haute atmosphere that doesn’t get in your face. There are days when a girl needs a plate of sable (for you Nobu fans, that’s what they used to do with black cod before miso came to America) and a glass of champagne, and this is the only place to do it. Please note that in deference to L.A.’s delicate sensibilities, at this location the Sturgeon King does not offer the tongue omelet, otherwise known as a heart attack on a plate.

Barney Greengrass, top floor of Barney’s, 9570 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills 90212, 310-777-5877

3. 25 Degrees (my review)

Hollywood Boulevard is a difficult place to negotiate when mealtime comes around, especially when you happen to be west of Highland in an endless tourist zone. Taking the place of the Roosevelt Hotel’s long-gone coffee shop, 25 Degrees (apparently the measure between medium rare and well-done) offers a fine beef and an excellent turkey burger which can be ordered already dressed in 3 preset combinations or can be accessorized to your liking with a full list of cheeses, sauces, and other extras. The big burger buns are brioche; the fries are skinny, good, and served in Chinese takeout boxes. The Goth coffee-shop atmosphere and the terrific wine list make it easy to linger…and 25 Degrees is open late, until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, making it a welcome oasis.

25 Degrees, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard inside the Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood 90028; 323-785-7244

4. Tiara Café (my review)

Tiara, open only for lunch, is Fred “62” Eric’s latest venture, a stylish room downtown in the New Market building that offers a varied and original menu. The “fresh’wich” (term and questionable punctuation straight from the menu) is a wrap made with an edible rice paper that’s perfect for the oh-so-skinny fashionistas that frequent this place—or for the reasonable person who wants to leave room for the luscious dessert pastries. One outstanding sandwich was essentially a media noche made with two kinds of duck, roasted and pastrami; it was rich and delicious.

Tiara Café, 127 East 9th Street, Los Angeles 90015

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5. Gingergrass

Silverlake’s Vietnamese-ish lunch/dinner place offers pho that will satisfy on breezy days (or, with the addition of hot sauce, cure your cold) and cool noodle bowls for hot days. At night, the lights are low and entrees like Shaking Beef are spiced right and are generous enough to share. Well-priced wine selections make it possible for two people to eat and drink well, with a bottle of wine, for $40 to 60, and the coconut-mango tea is astonishingly good, if you’re not in the mood for dessert.

Gingergrass, 2396 Glendale Boulevard, Silverlake 90039

6. Café Beaujolais (my review)

Various Chowhounders and others praise Eagle Rock's Café Beaujolais as the real thing, an actual French bistro in Los Angeles, and in Eagle Rock, yet. Naturally, I was skeptical. There's lots of fake French food in L.A. (Morel's at the Grove, for instance) and I wasn't going to be fooled. But the joke was on me: the waiters are French, the attitude is French (a superficial surliness that easily gives way to a distanced good will), and the food is authentic....endive salad, perfectly cooked fish, coq au vin as a special, inexpensive simple wines, and profiteroles for dessert.

Café Beaujolais, 1712 Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock 90041

7. Nook Bistro

Hidden away in a Westside minimall, Nook is a high-ceilinged, sleek, slightly cold space that serves a superior Caesar salad (great for lunch with their excellent lentil soup) and a dinner menu that includes stick-to-your-ribs comfort food: a beefy short rib with "smashed" potatoes, a chicken paillard with those same potatoes and broccoli rabe, and a steak with fingerling spuds, especially well-priced at $20. Again, very busy, but the no-reservation bar looks like a fun and sociable place to eat if you're alone.

Nook Bistro, 11628 Santa Monica Boulevard, #9, Los Angeles 90025

8. Bin 8945 (my review)

This wine bar's list, drawn from the owner's personal stash, takes up an entire binder. The menu progresses from small plates through to full dinner portions. I found heaven in a Caselle from Italy's heel paired with a portion of duck fat frites--the yin of the red wine balancing the yang of the potatoes fried in duck fat, like a food variation on the alcohol/caffeine buzz. Tip: Make a reservation (Bin's West Hollywood location attracts Beverly Hills types who wouldn't be without one) or end up on the very uncomfortable stools at the bar.

Bin 8945, 8945 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, 90038

9. Lou (my review)

Unselfconscious design-y décor, a quirky wine list, and a menu that is in part a tribute to the products of the pig, including charcuterie from Armandino Batali, "Mozza" Mario's dad. Going to Lou is like entering a speakeasy--it's a curtained corner in an undistinguished minimall. The best of the new wine bars. Special features like Oyster Night keep Lou evolving.

Lou, 724 North Vine Street, Los Angeles 90038

10. BLD (my review)

The name of this canteen on Beverly in the old Red/Opaline space says it all: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. The breakfast fare is varied and comforting (Eggs Florentine in a cast-iron cup), the lunch menu features several burgers (beef, pork, turkey) with matchstick fries, and you can mix and match artisanal cheeses and charcuterie to create your own platter. All this, friendly service, and a good wine list.

BLD, 7450 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles 90036