Spago is both the old stand-by and the new kid on the block, thanks to a complete redesign which makes the space seem altogether modern and new. The menu, too, has been revamped (don't worry, you can still ask for the smoked salmon pizza if you crave it), but Wolfgang Puck's most-famous restaurant is still decidedly, and refreshingly, old-school when it comes to spot-on presentation. The updated menu from executive chef Lee Hefter and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi features contemporary additions such as veal mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone ($16) and a raviolo served carbonara-style ($18), oozing golden egg yolk when you cut into it. The chestnut agnolotti—opt for truffle ($45) when it’s in season—is particularly outstanding. Spago's been doing stellar agnolotti since the Reagan years, proving that like many icons in Beverly Hills, a mere facelift can breathe new life into an aging beauty.
Nestled on the ground floor of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Joachim Splichal’s haute restaurant hums with perfectly-harmonized service and plates with a perfect symphony of flavors. Since 1989, Splichal has been serving exquisite contemporary French fare of the caliber usually reserved for healthy expense accounts. The signature Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ($19) is virtuosic, a work of edible art. But you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, so go for the $115 prix-fixe tasting option, allowing the kitchen to orchestrate the perfect meal.
Trying to identify a cultural inspiration for Quinn Hatfield's menu is a fool's errand. Dishes ranges from an obvious nod to Mediterranean—lamb crusted with date and mint ($36)—to classic Continental—slow cooked branzino with haricot vert ($32). The go-to dish here is a Croque Madame ($21) that eschews tradition by adding in luscious slices of Hamachi on a bite-sized, buttery brioche. Dessert is as much a to-do with deftly-made sweets such as ice cream and sorbet that change with the seasons and Sugar & Spice Beignets ($12) served with rich chocolate to dunk and an Early Grey milkshake to chase. Hatfield's may be the least-formal restaurant on this list, but it's a shining example of what fine dining can be in a city that doesn't wear ties.
Nothing signifies fine dining more than crisp white tablecloths and servers in suits. Mélisse has both. Hidden in plain sight in Santa Monica, this French-inspired gem offers tasting menus only ($125-$250/person), highlighting quality seasonal ingredients selected by Chef Josiah Citrin. Featured dishes include Elysian Farms lamb served three ways and wild Japanese yellowtail dressed up with ground coffee and finger limes. The beautifully plated fare is enhanced by the warm ambience of the purple-hued dining room, lending an entirely elegant dining experience. Don't miss Citrin's "Egg Caviar ($25 supplement)," a soft poached egg served in an egg shell with lemon crème fraîche and topped with American Osetra caviar. "Fine" doesn't even begin to describe it.
For a city next to the Pacific, Los Angeles is unaccountably lacking in good seafood options. Michael Cimarusti's Providence fills the void with a mostly aquatic menu that deftly showcases the bounty of the ocean. Maine lobster, Norwegian cod and king salmon from the Quinault River in Washington are among the menu's varied choices. Cimarusti may not earn locavore points, but his knack for finding the best product will make you forget about the journey and focus on the perfect bite that's on your fork. For the truly adventurous (and deep-pocketed), there's the 14-16–course Chef's Menu ($175) where luxury fare including caviar, truffles and Japanese wagyu beef are the catch of the day.