The minute you walk in the door, 2424 Pico entices with the smells of cumin and garlic and basil. And either David LaRue, who owns the restaurant with chef David Wolf, or Scott Tracy, the wine director, welcome you warmly. The dining room, with its picture windows looking out onto the street, is painted in vivid golds and reds. A row of whimsical iron chandeliers leads the way to the bar at the back, hidden from view. (There are also, incidentally, a handful of tables for smokers.) The overall effect is charming. Unfortunately, the boldly patterned banquettes are about as comfortable as sitting on ironing boards, but this is a small glitch that's easily fixed.
When I ask the tall, wholesome waitress a question, she has definite opinions about the food, a response that is entirely refreshing. At one point she describes a dish in such lustful terms, I burst out laughing. When I wonder what sardines "Mo's way," means, she tells me, "This is a dish from our Moroccan chef Mohammed. He grills them whole--actually, they're not sardines today, but a Japanese fish called tejaro that David, the chef, got when he went down to the Japanese fish market early this morning. You get two of them, charred on the grill, served with wedges of lime and an ochre, Thai-inspired peanut sauce." So, of course, I order them. And, of course, I love them.
The menu changes slightly from week to week. Other first courses I've enjoyed include heirloom tomato salad--a platter of old-fashioned varieties like the meaty Brandywine and gold-orange "pineapple" tomatoes served sliced on a bed of greens with cracked black pepper and just enough balsamic vinaigrette to let the taste of the fruit shine through. The sopes are terrific, too, thick masa patties heaped with sweet fresh corn and roasted chiles, only served in rather too much orangish chile sauce. "Korean tacos," frilly lettuce cups filled with cubes of marinated beef, cucumbers and crisp diced vegetables, are good, too. But proceed with caution, warns the waitress, that dab of hanero salsa is almost a pure chile paste.