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In a rare coincidence, the Chinese New Year, a time for joy and celebration, falls on Valentine’s Day. According to the Chinese calendar, this is the Year of the Tiger, an animal of power and passion. They may make an odd couple but celebrate the tiger and cupid at VALENTINE'S DAY, where they’ll be in good company. Garry Marshall directs Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts and singersongwriter Taylor Swift in a screenplay by Katherine Fugate. They play various Los Angelenos, singles and couples, who experience heartbreak or happiness on V-Day. Heartbreak is easy enough to find but for happiness, keep reading.

We’ve had all kinds of barbecue but, until we discovered THE SMOKIN’ JOINT (8486 West 3rd St., WHwd; 323-655-RIBS/7427), recommended by Michael Berk, one of this city’s most devoted foodies, we’d never heard of “California BBQ.” This is a delicious concept from owner/chef Michael Kesler, who does wonderful things to local farm raised, grass-fed organic meats and farmer’s market organic produce. A former record industry exec, he gave up the roadie life and went to culinary school so he could spend quality time with his young family. Of course, as word leaks out about the great tastes he’s serving up, his time is premium as his meats. He and his crew make everything from scratch every day, including the butter and the pickles. They brine their meats in apple juice in lieu of the usual saltwater, add rubs and smoke them in a wood-fed smoker. Miniature muffin-shaped cornbreads studded with golden kernels are delicious. Onion ring loaf “freshly prepared to order” is fried in peanut oil, the only one used here. Wings come smoked with a lil kick or, even better, as crispy “wangs”; fifteen hour beef brisket, tri-tip, pulled chicken or pork, fried catfish, grilled veggie and albacore tuna sandwiches are served with your choice of side: the world’s best baked beans; daddy macs roni n’ cheese; baked potato topped with mascarpone, bacon & chives; braised greens with bacon & garlic; bacon stuffed bbq sweet onion; fresh cut house fries made to order; or fresh roasted vegetables. Cornbread and a side come with massive portions of filet mignon, baby backs, beef ribs, a smoked half chicken or mustard-thyme marinated catfish ($17 - $25). The beer and wine license may have arrived by the time you read this or indulge in the fresh lemonade. Make room for at least one of four fabulous desserts ($7 each for devil’s cake; buzzed pecan pie with Jack Daniels infused crust; fresh sour cherry pie; or red velvet cake). On a wall of flat screens, see rock videos of a young Fats Domino, Little Richard, and others. Even the logo is musical, a pig, a cow and a chicken playing bass, drums and guitar, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits them in Kesler’s kitchen.

Must have chocolate? WILD SWEETS COCOART® by Dominique & Cindy Duby consists of two different collections of four hand-painted and hand-crafted origin chocolates with custom packaging inspired by the Japanese Wood Box. The featured ingredient is praline, scented with spices and studded with honey caramelized nuts or seeds, dried fruits or candied citrus peels to create a mix of aromas, textures and flavors, such as chocolate espresso walnut praline with honey caramel pecans and mango, or ginger macadamia praline with honey caramel macadamia and banana chips. The arÔme ® collection, inspired by a classification system used in perfumery, features chocolate flavors such as fruit: coconut praline scented with pineapple grapeseed oil infusion and pineapple jelly or citrus: sunflower praline scented with citrus zest sunflower oil infusion and grapefruit jelly. Priced at around $8.99 plus shipping and tax at Master chocolatiers Dominique and Cindy Duby trained under Lenôtre in Paris and Wittamer in Brussels and have participated in the World Pastry Cup in France and the World Pastry Championship in Las Vegas. PATCHI CHOCOLATES (www.Patchi. us) From the land of the ancient Phoenicians and the Silk Road comes a gourmet chocolate sold in Paris, London, Dubai, Hong Kong, and now in the U.S. They contain no preservatives, artificial flavors or vegetable oil, only cocoa butter, and are available in over 40 varieties, some with roasted pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, orange peel, dried fruits, gianduja (cream of hazelnut), or dates. Flavors include "Emotion," pistachio brittle covered with 72% dark chocolate; "Desir," a whole date stuffed with roasted almond and dipped in dark chocolate; "Sublime", a dark chocolate square filled with dried strawberry bits and chunks of roasted almonds. "Noirs de Patchi" is plain chocolate thins ranging from 55% to 70% and 80% cocoa.

Homemade caramel; melted premium dark, white and milk chocolate; and imported nuts. These are just some of the ingredients layered over fresh Granny Smith apples in MRS. PRINDABLE’S Handmade Confections workshop. These gourmet caramel apples are handcrafted in an 11-step process that begins with orchard-picked apples handdipped in freshly cooked caramel made with just butter, sugar, cream and vanilla, and cooked in small batches in traditional copper pots as they have been for 25 years. Order: or 888-215-1100.

When Harry Culver (1880-1946) rented an office at what today is THE CULVER HOTEL (9400 Culver Blvd., Culver City; 310-558- 9400), now on the National Register of Historic Places, Culver City was just a gleam in the eye of the budding real estate mogul. Throughout February, food and beverage manager, Peter Dickinson, pays homage to Culver with a special birthday dinner menu costing $29, or $42 with wine. He marks the stages of Culver’s life: his Nebraska birthplace is marked by corn chowder served with cornbread crouton and paired with an Omaha rye; his service in the Spanish War gets fish-artichoke stuffed tomatoes and a cuba libre; his days writing for The Manila Times are recalled with pork adobo and a Philippine rice wine; his California days in this movie town inspire a Pacific salmon steak with Coppola Director's Cut Chardonnay; apple pie a la mode is the all-American dessert and comes with an oat-meal cookie martini. The serving dishes complement the mood of the historic lobby or dine on the patio.

Damp and bone-chilled, we ducked into BOMBAY PALACE (8690 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills; 310-659-9944) during a recent storm, where we thawed out over cups of hot chai, surrounded by subdued lighting, gentle strains of Hindi music, and walls of bronze statuettes in backlit niches. The menu is a long list of favorite dishes, including specialties such as lamb bhuna Punjabi, cooked in tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs and spices; makhani chicken in creamy tomato sauce; aloo gobi, cauliflower and potato with ginger and tomatoes; warm garlic naan; and halwa, carrot pudding topped with coconut pineapple ice cream. Owner Deep Sethi, his wife, Harveen, and their trio of chefs have kept this tranquil nook going strong for 25 years and to celebrate, there will be a ribbon cutting and anniversary party on February 25. Special $25 menus — three courses for two people at lunchtime, and four courses per person at dinner — are offered for the remainder of the year. Valentine’s Day menus run $40 or $50 per person. A-la-carte service and rotating prix fixe menus are also available, no matter what the weather.

Cross the street to NIRVANA RESTAURANT & LOUNGE (8689 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills; 310-657-5040), where carved wooden doors lead to canopied “playbeds” for reclining while dining, a glass-covered “riverbed” pathway leads to a Buddha Waterfall and a private Tantric VIP room. Chef Raamanuj Sahay prepares family recipes and dishes from his days at New Delhi’s five star Bukhara Restaurant. Our server, Farah, suggested all winners, including crispy mushrooms stuffed with cheese and coriander, and paneer tikka tiranga, homemade white cheese stuffed with tamarind, mint and mango chutney. The house specialty roast leg of lamb is marinated overnight in rum and fresh spices. Dal is stirred for 20 hours in a tandoor oven. Roadside-style Punjabi chicken is spiced with cheese, chili and cilantro. There is Mughlai quail, charbroiled, stuffed and eaten by hand, and venison chop, lamb chops, salmon, lobster, scallops and sea bass, mostly marinated, sauced and seasoned. You won’t have seen most of these dishes around town unless you live in Mumbai. Nirvana gives you a preview of what it’s like to eat there.

Chef Jack M. Ourfalian was a student of Andrew Pastore at Le Cordon Bleu before becoming his sous chef at VINOLIO (1636 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood; 323-856-0888). Now he’s Executive Chef at this hopping “Cahuenga Corridor” Italian restaurant where you find moderate prices, seasonal ingredients, and warm hospitality. All ingredients on the “made from scratch” menu, from the Caputo flour to the tomatoes and cheese, is imported from Italy. A new lunch service includes grilled vegetable and mozzarella lasagna (flourless) and marinated chicken marsala sandwich with portabella mushrooms. Dinner favorites are the fava bean and pecorino cheese crostini, and the mozzarella, potato, rosemary, and pancetta pizza.

If you like old school blues and jazz, take a seat on the brick-floored back patio and listen to live bands on Wednesdays and weekends, and enjoy a late-night menu Thursday thru Saturday.

Campanile’s chef/owner Mark Peel, and mixologist supreme, Audrey Saunders, debuted THE TAR PIT (609 N La Brea Ave, Midtown; 323-965-1300), their modern take on a 1940s supper club, open nightly till 2am. Cozy up to the stretch bar, ensconce yourself in a cushy booth, or claim a club chair. Retreat to an era when deviled eggs, shrimp Louis and steak Diane were all the rage, though rarely done with the finesse you find here. Try the mussels steamed in wheat ale, steak & kidney pie, or gnocchi with escargots. In addition to 27 unusual wines ($38 per bottle), they’ve resurrected classic cocktails such as the Flame of Love, the Old Cuban, and the gin-gin mule, and invented a Cucumber-Mint Creole cocktail, the Palm Frond, served with a lemongrass straw, and other specialty drinks.

G’Day USA was especially exciting this year, what with several visiting celebrity chefs, including Neal Perry, whose friend, Thomas Keller, is encouraging him to set up a restaurant here. Since we ate at Rockpool in Sydney, Perry has added three more eateries and taken over upper class food service for Qantas Airways. Here, Perry prepared a lunch of goat cheese tortellini appetizers, zucchini and Parmesan tart, John Dory poached in tomato water, and strawberry mascarpone cake served with a gorgeous Semillon dessert wine from New South Wales. At a Walkabout in Beverly Hills, KRCW Good Food presented a live event with Evan Kleiman and visiting chefs Curtis Stone and Peter Evans. Go to for fares from Los Angeles to Sydney as low as $798 (40% off Economy) and other offers. Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us to all of you! ▼



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