The 2007 Zagat Los Angeles So. California Guide has declared Santa Monica to be “the best area for great restaurants in all of Southern California.”

For decades, Santa Monica restaurants and chefs have received good reviews in food-savvy publications like Esquire, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet, according to Misti Kerns, chief executive officer of the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The city is also home to a number of “celebrity chefs” such as Jared Simons, owner and chef of Violet; Nadav Bashan, chef de cuisine at Michael’s; Michael Reardon, chef at Oceanfront in Hotel Casa Del Mar; Elvira Garcia, owner of Cha Cha Chicken (which has received a national James Beard Award for culinary excellence); Gregg Wangard at Ocean & Vine in Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel; Allyson Thurber at The Lobster; and Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main.

The 2007 Zagat guide’s top three picks in Santa Monica are restaurants Melisse, Josie and The Hump.

Chef Josiah Citrin, a Santa Monica native, owns and operates the award-winning Melisse restaurant.

Melisse won the Four-Star Mobil Travel Guide Award and was named Zagat’s number-one restaurant in the Los Angeles area for French-American food.

Citrin says he heads to the local Santa Monica Farmers Market at least twice a week to find locally grown, fresh inspiration for his ever-changing menu.

Depending on the month, patrons might find sweet white corn soup with jumbo lump crab or a prime beef strip loin with braised short ribs and a caramelized shallot tart at his restaurant.

Signature dishes include the poached egg served in its shell, topped with lemon-chive crËme fra”che and American osetra caviar (served with tiny abalone spoons), and dry-aged cÙte de boeuf served tableside, the Zagat guide says.

Desserts are seasonal (sticky toffee pudding, brown-butter apricot tart) but there are always petits fours available at the end of the meal.

With all there is to choose from, the best way to experience Melisse is to order one of the “tasting menus,” especially when time and money are no object, recommended the Zagat guide.

Josie is constantly heralded as one of the best American bistros in Santa Monica, Kerns said.

The restaurant was opened by chef Josie LeBalch and her husband, Frank Delzio, and was one of the first restaurants on its stretch of Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, which is slowly becoming known as “restaurant row,” Kerns said.

Josie’s kitchen is operated by a triumvirate of three talents —owner LeBalch, chef de cuisine Jill Davie and pastry chef Jonna Jensen — who turn out “progressive American fare with international influences,” said the Zagat guide.

Seasonal cuisine determines Josie’s menu, which includes duck confit and frisee salad, and in the summer fresh greens from the Santa Monica Farmers Market tossed in a tarragon vinaigrette, LeBalch said.

Menu staples include short ribs braised Moroccan-style with curried couscous, served in a colorful clay tagin, the Zagat guide says.

Another point of interest is on Monday nights, when the restaurant waives its wine corkage fee entirely so patrons can bring their own grappa favorites if they choose.

On Wednesdays, there is a special three-course prix fixe menu ($32) based on what the chefs find at the Santa Monica Farmers Market that morning.

The Hump was named for the route the Flying Tiger bombers took over the Himalayas during World War II, and features an etched-glass modern dÈcor, woven grasses and a fireplace reminiscent of a mountain cabin, the Zagat guide said.

The sushi chefs were hired from the best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, so The Hump features an array of first-class sushi, Kerns said.

Additionally, there are daily specials of fresh soft-shell crab in season, seaweed salad or stuffed eggplant.

Arrive at sunset and take advantage of the great view and privately piloted airplanes at the Santa Monica airport, the Zagat guide recommends.

While there, people can see the site where the C-47s (military version of the famed DC-3) that used to fly The Hump were built.

“Santa Monica continues to excel as a city with its reputation as a fantastic dining destination,” Kerns said.

“Its small-town vibe draws chefs who love cooking for sharp, smart, sophisticated people and who also love the beach city’s casual, unpretentious, laid-back demeanor.”

Kerns said no restaurant in Santa Monica requires a jacket or tie.

As the birthplace of both California and fusion cuisine, Santa Monica attracts tourists and diners from around the world treating them to the best dining experience Southern California offers, the Zagat guide said.

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