Since opening in 1999, Josiah Citrin’s Santa Monica respite has never wavered from its mission to provide a restaurant that celebrates the difference between eating and dining. That his trademark curl of pasta with lobster bolo-gnese and the caviar-topped soft poached egg remain staples isn’t a sign of stagnation but evidence he got it right the first time.

Best Vegetarian Tasting Menu, August 2008
Josiah Citrin’s nine-year-old restaurant has a grande maison quality. On entering, one is enveloped in an atmosphere of pin-striped suits and premier cru. Citrin’s cooking is delightfully frank—this is not a place where the essence of an essence will be spooned with a ceremonial hush. Crisped Parmesan croquettes bob in the earthy artichoke soup. Beef three ways highlights the gradations between cuts of meat, anchored by a sauce in which mustard is folded into a celery puree. A passion fruit soufflé with coconut sorbet and lemongrass-pistachio milk caps off a lyrical meal. The wine list is stupendous and accessible, including varietals with a little age that are poured liberally by the glass. Mélisse aims for the highest levels, without a trace of conceit.