99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Mélisse

photo by Anne Fishbein

While it’s not as expensive as some high-end sushi experiences around town, there’s no denying that Mélisse is one of the bigger financial commitments for dinner. But there’s a reason this Santa Monica restaurant has held our attention and admiration far longer than most other palaces of fine dining. Simply put: It’s the cooking. Yes, the hushed room with its cream-and-purple palette and its dramatic center light fixture lulls you into a sense of luxurious calm. Yes, the extremely formal service is a nice break from the rushed indifference or perky glibness that’s now the norm — it’s nice to be reminded that some service professionals are indeed professional. But those things aside, it’s really chef/owner Josiah Citrin’s way with ingredients that makes the experience worth the price. Certainly, the truffles and the caviar and the lobster help, but Citrin can make just as much of lentils as he can of those luxuries; many of his best dishes are born as much of technique and passion as they are of opulence. Luxury ingredients or no, this is cooking at the highest level.

-- Besha Rodell