Feature

What the experts recommend: California destination dining

Murray Circle in Sausalito; Eveleigh in West Hollywood; Bistro Anju in Laguna Niguel

Murray Circle SausalitoAny restaurant that offers both a bucolic 19th-century setting and an “Oz-like view of San Francisco” doesn’t need its menu to be the principal draw, said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. Chef Joseph Humphrey has “the most willing of audiences” each night in his elegant, 110-seat dining room because just beyond the rolling lawn outside its windows lie the bay and the city’s skyline, and above rise the glowing towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. But such distractions aren’t needed: While Humphrey’s creations no longer have the “almost indescribable ‘wow’ factor” they had a few years ago, they’re still excellent. The setting offers history, too. Murray Circle is a centerpiece of a resort that’s made creative use of an 1860s Army post and its Victorian-era buildings (the restaurant itself was once a barracks). But don’t think chipped beef in a helmet; think instead of tender coins of beef “with a horseradish emulsion and swirls of fruit sauce.” Or better still, a duck entrée that includes “a generous lobe of foie gras, a center-cut strip of breast, a confit of leg, and a soft-textured log of turnip cooked in caramel.” Topped with a “dark licorice sauce and the turnip marinade,” the dish showcases Humphrey’s great talent. 601 Murray Cir., (415) 339-4750

Eveleigh West Hollywood Housed in a distinctively rustic former Kenneth Cole showroom, Eveleigh represents a pleasant anomaly for the usually overdressed Sunset Strip, said S. Irene Virbila in the Los Angeles Times. Its space is straight out of a “design or architecture magazine”—salvaged wood boards, a wide, tent-like dining area to the rear, “industrial sewing lamps peering out from the walls.” The brainchild of three young Australians who also own a gastropub in New York, this hip gathering place serves a combination of small and large plates that could be called “comfort food for 21st-century Los Angeles.” If you’re not in the mood for the pork rillettes or a light pasta, try the evening’s crudo, which in my case was hamachi fanned on a plate with “little slivers of lemon flesh”: It sang “with freshness.” The roasted barramundi is “nicely cooked, and flanked by braised kale and a mild-mannered romanesco sauce.” While some dishes need finessing, Eveleigh is on the right track. Come summer, I’m betting, “the back room will be filled with wine buffs, cocktail aficionados, and women in flirty summery dresses.” 8752 W. Sunset Blvd., (424) 239-1630

Bistro Anju Laguna NiguelIn this minimalist Orange County sushi spot, the draw is not the space but chef Hideki Saito, said Edwin Goei in OC Weekly. Saito has gained acclaim for his focus and precision; only a “Buddha is more unflappable.” Don’t bother making the trip to sample his California rolls: “You get to see the man at his best when you opt for his omakase dinner,” which here means six courses of Saito’s choosing. The meal usually starts with a “subtle” seafood gazpacho drizzled with pesto. From there, you just sit back and let Saito “freely riff on the freshest ingredients.” His foie gras, served cold atop green apple, melts on the tongue like butter-flavored ice cream.” Dessert itself offers a touch of genius—cheesecake, for instance, flanked by berries and “garnished with a few turns of the pepper mill.” 23964 Aliso Creek Rd., (949) 716-8882

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