Classic Tables: JiRaffe

The Santa Monica mainstay is still fresh

When Raphael Lunetta and Josiah Citrin opened JiRaffe in 1996, it was everything a Santa Monica restaurant should be: Elegant but casual, with a strong focus on local ingredients, which they had the benefit of finding just a few blocks away at the farmers' market.

It was–and still is–the quintessential California bistro.

Although Citrin moved on to open his own place, Mélisse, Lunetta has kept JiRaffe a neighborhood mainstay.

You won't find avant-garde cooking here; it's more about extracting the most flavor out of great ingredients. It could be the intensely flavored basil pesto that gives a burrata-and-roasted tomato tart its zing ($16), or the perfectly cooked rock shrimp and purple Peruvian gnocchi that swim in a delicate herb-infused butter sauce ($16).

Specials come and go with the seasons, but devotees demand signature dishes, like the caramelized pork chop ($29). Always served on wild rice studded with smoked bacon, there would be a revolt should it disappear. Ditto for the ethereal lemon soufflé ($11).

The best deal is on Bistro Mondays, when the prix-fixe menu is offered. You might see beefy French onion soup, roasted Jidori chicken with the season's first cherries, and crumbly shortcake topped with juicy just-picked strawberries.

Priced at only $38, it makes returning every week a delicious possibility.

JiRaffe, 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-917-6671 or jirafferestaurant.com