One sunny afternoon, Ginnie Lu and her friends sat in a café sipping hot drinks and chatting about how much they would love to run their own tea and coffee house. When the group realized that they had the means to carve their dream into reality, they spent the next two years saving and planning. Finally, in 2010, they opened Four Leaf Tea Room, a cozy enclave where guests can sip specialty brews amidst the aromas of sweet and savory crepes. Mugs of oolong and chrysanthemum keep fingers warm during the year's cooler temperatures, and when the summer returns, they cool down with iced teas and mango freezes on an outdoor patio.
Despite Four Leaf’s name, its upscale, innovate crepes force its teas to share the limelight. A chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu dreams up the lavish fillings, pairing smoked salmon and caper-herb cream or soy-marinated chicken with crushed peanuts for savory meals. Sweet versions make use of exotic ingredients such as red-wine-poached pears, candied pecans, taro paste, and gelato. As guests fork into these creations, they can admire walls decorated with spring-green leaves and shelves filled with loose-leaf blends and prehistoric fossils of steam from early teas.
Much has changed since 1927, including the price of a chicken dinner. When Marius Taix Jr. first opened Taix, he served chicken dinners for 50 cents. Though the price may have changed, owner Raymond Taix made sure that the French country cuisine didn’t. Meals still come with a tureen of soup and freshly baked French bread, and the dinner menu of roast chicken au jus, salmon filet with champagne cream, and frog legs Provencal still honors the founder's original intentions. And though Raymond's staff is considered “vintage”—some having served more than three generations—they can still hang with the night owls, serving entrees from a late-night menu until 1 a.m. Taix also feeds cravings for late-night entertainment. Thursdays and Fridays, the restaurant hosts live music in the 312 lounge. On Sundays, the lounge also features standup comedy.
Jack n’ Jill’s brings hearty, down-on-the-farm meals to the city, within a quaint, family-friendly environment. Generous menus at both the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills locations are full of homemade comfort food that will have you saying things like “ma,” “pa,” and “that cabin's not built out of logs, it's built out of peanut brittle.” At Jack n’ Jill’s, you’ll eat farm-sized portions of the food that made the settlers strong and capable of playing catch with an ox.
Since 1992, California Canteen has bridged the culinary and cultural gap between Californians and Francophiles with its tasty twist on French bistro Mediterranean fare. French favorites populate the menu. Sample the nicoise salad with tuna steak ($14), beef bourguignon ($17.50), or lamb shank osso bucco ($18.25). Meanwhile, enterprising diners and triumvirates can customize comestibles in the three-course dinner ($20.50 4 p.m.–7 p.m., Sunday-Thursday). Alternately, the lunch menu spins a lighter, two-course remix of the prix fixe ($12.95).
A cheery yellow farmhouse on the coast, Cafe Beaujolais strikes a romantic chord at first sight. The Victorian building was constructed in 1893, and it seems as though the fanciful atmosphere of the period still lingers. Behind the white picket fence, past the foyer, and beyond the elegant dining room, there's a glass atrium where guests dine during warmer months. Its windows afford a view of the restaurant's pièce de résistance: a garden awash in colorful flora and exotic, looming fronds. The plants here serve as more than decorations. Many of the flowers—borage, pansies, Shasta daises—are edible, and serve to garnish seasonal dishes better than steaks shaped into blooming petals. Another holdover from the bygone age is the garden's brickery, complete with a walk-up window that sells freshly baked bread every afternoon. As for the café itself, executive chef and owner David LaMonica preps lunch and dinner seven days a week. His French-inspired cuisine complements the setting's charm with an emphasis on local, organic produce and humanely raised meats. Crab cakes, red wine-braised lamb shank, and pan-roasted California sturgeon filet star on the menu, which pairs with more than 100 wines.
Chef Nicolas T. Peter is something of a magician. Though he acquires ingredients from local farmers' markets, his seasonal menus produce meals that feel like they were plucked off tables at a Mediterranean bistro. The farm-to-fork philosophy means the selection is ephemeral, but previous menus have included dishes such as mustard-grilled rack of lamb with madeira wine, and oxtail tagine with baby turnips, chickpeas, and tomatoes. Seasonality extends to a rotating selection of cocktails, and the diverse wine list includes varietals from Israel, Slovenia, South Africa, and Mars. The fresh, colorful food fits right in with the Little Door’s bucolic dining spaces. On the Patio, a tiled fountain bubbles into a koi pond, and the scent of bougainvillea floats into the sun-drenched open air. A bamboo ceiling offers shelter in the Winter Garden, where cerulean chairs and lush greenery add color to an otherwise whitewashed room. Inside, a pianist sets the mood in the smaller Piano Room, which absorbs light from the adjacent Patio, while beautiful stained-glass windows and exposed beams give the Blue Room a more rustic vibe and a reason to not be so sad.