Sweet Spots

Our food and wine editor chooses three hot spots for a romantic night out—both in and out of the South Bay.

For those grumpy souls who claim Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark and those dubious Russell Stover chocolatiers, February 14 can feel cynically saccharine.  That said, we here at Southbay are (mostly) hopeless romantics—so this month we selected three of our favorite sweet spots for wining and dining with your beloved … or with the person you’re hoping might assume the role! From married couples on the babysitter clock to brand-new dating duos, everyone needs a place to call “ours”—that special restaurant and table and bottle that make you and yours feel, well, inclined.

 

The Breeze

“La Dolce Vita” is alive and well in the South Bay at Hermosa Beach’s beloved La Sosta Enoteca. Tucked into an unassuming corner space in the Five Points neighborhood, this tiny wine bar is an homage to all things Venetian.
Opened by former pilot Luca Manderino nearly a decade ago, La Sosta roughly translates to a place of rest, and it’s the perfect place to hole up with your date and relax with a glass or three of Venice’s famed bubbly: prosecco. Manderino’s food reflects his family’s restaurant roots. It’s authentic northern Italian cuisine with an emphasis on Mediterranean dishes like baked branzino with herbs and spaghetti alla bottarga—no Olive Garden, glutinous masses of pasta to be found here.

Who: Perfect for newer couples—romantic but not overwhelming. Pick a few small plates and ask Chef Luca to select some authentic regional sips to match. Keep the conversation going with a walk along The Strand afterwards.

Where & Wear: 2700 Manhattan Avenue in Hermosa Beach | 310-318-1556 | lasostaenoteca.com  
Upscale beach chic but leave the flip-flops and the baseball hats home, fellows.

What to Pair: Il Tagliere—La Sosta’s beautiful board of classic charcuterie and cheeses—with a bottle of the priciest prosecco on the menu. While cheap, grocery store prosecco has proliferated in recent years, fine Venetian bubblies are made in the same method as Champagne and retail for a fraction of the price. Or if there’s a chill in the air, opt for a hearty Valpolicella, Amarone’s leaner cousin, which is one of the Veneto’s classic red blends.

 

 

 

The Gourmet

Chef Curtis Stone is a familiar face to those who watch food television, and his not-exactly-unattractive visage means he might have skirted his way to fame in a city where appearance often trumps talent. Then you eat at Maude, his tiny jewel-box restaurant that opened a year ago in Beverly Hills. Seating just 25 and named for the grandmother who inspired him to cook, Maude is a revelation.

Stone’s an intuitive chef, and his concept in others’ hands might have seemed precious yet is winningly convincing as exe-cuted by him. The menu is pure prix-fixe tasting menu and centers on a single item, say asparagus, if in season. No, you can’t substi-tute anything nor should you want to with this kind of artistry in the kitchen.

Note that it’s tough to score a table at Maude, so check the website and plan ahead for the gourmet in your life. For anyone serious about food, Maude is a must.

Who: Maude is tiny but impeccable and is ideal for dining à deux, as larger parties aren’t encouraged. Plan to spend a long evening there, as courses can number as many as eight and consider Uber, as wine pairings are plentiful and expertly rendered. Maude is perfect for couples who care passionately about what and where they eat.

Where & Wear: 212 South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills | 310-859-3418 | restaurantmaude.com  
Stone is Australian, and that laid-back vibe translates to the dining room. Ties would feel weirdly stuffy, but the food merits dressing up. It’s Beverly Hills, ladies, so wear the good heels and bring the bling if you have it.

What to Pair: The joy of Maude is that they do it for you! Sit back and relax. In my considerable restaurant experience, the wine program at Maude stands out as superb. Sip whatever they pour for you, and write down the wines. They’ll be memorable.

 

 

 

 

The Luxe

For truly romantic dining, the Hotel Bel-Air is without compare. Tucked away in its pricey namesake hamlet, Bel-Air feels like a fairy tale. From the white swans gliding by to the shimmering greenery of the grounds, you’d never know just how close you are to the cacophonous Sunset Strip.

When legendary Wolfgang Puck took over the dining operations, the Hotel Bel-Air finally got a chef to match its magical setting. Fairy tale ending, indeed! The food and service are close to perfect, with price tags to match—so save this for a very special occasion.

Who: The Hotel Bel-Air is ideal for Valentine’s Day, an anniversary or, if my experience is any guide, an engagement dinner. (Disclosure: I got a big, sparkly ring there a decade ago.) And consider booking a room too. The rates can be surprisingly affordable if you go mid-week, so surprise your sweetie with something above-and-beyond your usual date night.

Where & Wear: Hotel Bel-Air, 701 Stone Canyon Road in Los Angeles | 310-472-1211 | hotelbelair.com
Jacket and tie for gentlemen and fancy dress for ladies. Expect to see celebrities while you get to feel like one for the evening too.

What to Pair: The wine prices at the Hotel Bel-Air aren’t exactly moderate. Instead of going for a trophy bottle at inflated prices, consider mixing and matching the excellent by-the-glass selections. Ask for a taste if there’s something that’s unfamiliar to you. Or consider going bubbles throughout the entire meal. The half-bottle of Champagne Philipponnat is a steal at $66 as is the versatile Henriot Brut Rosé at $158; both pair beautifully with food.