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Most restaurants get cranky if you play with open flame at your table. At Arisoo, they actually encourage it. Okay, so it's a grill set into the table, powered by a gas burner, so you can cook thin strips of meat to your liking, but still, it's leaping flame.

Pyro or no, anyone who loves Korean food will be enraptured here. Deaji bulgogi is a treasured thing -- sliced pork, marinated in a nuclear red pepper sauce, to be grilled, then wrapped with lettuce, garlic, jalapeños, and a bit of salty mung bean paste. We also romance gal bi (short ribs), bul go gi (thin-sliced beef) and sometimes heu mit gui (beef tongue), the meat soaking up the rich aroma of soy-based sauce. Entrees are all the better with appetizers of bin dae duk (pancake) and man du (pot stickers). Or supplement with chap che, stir-fried noodles, or dol sot bibimbap, a sizzling stone pot of rice, beef and veggies.

Arisoo's a grill we'd be proud to introduce to our parents.

This, friends, is serious steak. Only the finest aged, corn-fed, USDA Prime beef bred in the Midwest makes it to the tables in this elegantly appointed place. Ruth's Chris' beef is never frozen, so you always get exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Steaks are hand-cut at the restaurant and served in huge portions -- 12 to 22 ounces -- because a larger cut retains more of its natural juices during cooking. The beef is richly marbled -- those ribbons of fat mean a beautiful, buttery taste explosion. The steak literally calls to us -- broiled in an 1,800-degree oven and served on a plate heated to 500 degrees, the meat sputters and sizzles merrily, making a sound that's more Pavlovian than any bell. Whether it's the filet, rib eye, New York strip, porterhouse or massive cowboy cut, Ruth's Chris has a permanent stake in our future.

Some chefs treat the fusion concept as license to pair unnatural foods. Sushi schnitzel? Not for us, thanks. Then there are chefs like Natascha Ovando-Karadsheh, who takes classic dishes and marries them with select surprises, for tastes that are inspired but not weird. The handwritten menu changes nightly, depending on available ingredients and the chef's mood.

At Coup Des Tartes, we're impressed with such dishes as pork tenderloin, taken a little Jamaican with jerk rub, a little Southwestern with peach salsa, a little French with chèvre mashed potatoes, and all American with sautéed spinach. Lamb shank takes on a Moroccan flair with Indian spices, harissa-spiced vegetable ragout and dried fruits atop couscous. And we've never had such divine Alaskan halibut, drizzled with fresh basil oil, and stunningly served with Absolut Citron-spiked risotto, teardrop tomatoes and spinach. Freebie plates of French olives and a BYOB policy make dinner here even more special.

For such a big city, we sure don't have much in the way of ultra-luxe restaurants. Maybe we're too laid-back. (Jacket and tie? Surely you jest!) Or maybe no one's been brave enough to take on Mary Elaine's, our grandma of gourmet. This is the swankiest of swank, with rich European decor, white-glove service (even purses get their own little stools to sit on), and gorgeous views of the southern Valley. It's expensive -- appetizers for $29, entrees for $60, and desserts for $20 -- but no other restaurant can compete with its modern French cuisine. We're delighted, from a beginning of two ounces of Caspian beluga caviar through châteaubriand of buffalo with grilled Sonoma foie gras, or caramelized Maine sea scallops with arugula ravioli and white bean purée, right through desserts that leave us gasping. Yes, we do have to dress at Mary Elaine's. But we'd wear pink bunny suits if it got us a table.
The Salt Cellar, despite its funky, underground setting (careful navigating those dark stairs, particularly if you've been washing down your pre-dinner oysters, clams, shrimp or mussels at the bar), is completely serious about bringing us only the freshest, best-quality aquatic fare from around the globe. In fact, its comfy ambiance is one of the reasons we're hooked. Who needs frou-frou fittings with a multitude of daily market selections such as Canadian king salmon, Hawaiian mahi-mahi with macadamia nuts, Cajun-spiced halibut from Anchorage, stuffed mountain trout from Idaho, or our personal favorite: the three-pound, live Maine lobster? Or stuff your mouth with the Cellar's whole Dungeness crab or Alaskan king crab legs. The Captain's Choice selections add more adventurous treats such as shrimp San Remo on fresh garlic basil pasta, and teriyaki ahi on fresh orange habanero pasta. No matter the mood, we always "sea" something we like at the Salt Cellar.
It's a fantasy we keep returning to: stuffing ourselves to the gills on quality seafood, without taking out a loan on our house. At Ichi Ban, it's certainly easy to fill up, selecting from hundreds of aquatic items at this buffet-style sushi and seafood fest. But we feel a wave of relief when the bill comes: just $13.95 at lunch, and $20.95 at dinner. The reality is that even with the low tariff, Ichi Ban doesn't cut corners on its catch. Pale pink albacore tuna, bright red maguro, silky salmon, buttery hamachi, cooked shrimp, flaky kani, red snapper, scallop and eel make for sensual sushi. More substantial choices include baked salmon, snow crab, marina clam soup, scallops, baby octopus and sautéed fish. Finally -- substantial seafood that doesn't cost us a c-note.

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