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Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge: Sophisticated Yet Accessible

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I'd driven by the joint often enough. Maybe you know you a place like that: a place that won't reveal its secrets to mere passersby; a speakeasy-type locale where if you're willing to step inside and adjust to the dim lighting and standing-room-only crowd, you'll discover a hidden gem for those in the know.

Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge is that place. Located in the heart of Brentwood Village, just south of Sunset Boulevard, it has been destination dining for well over a decade. Upon entering you'll be met by Michael Tower, who seems to know the names of everyone who has ever dined here, and everyone knows Michael (as well as Justin, if you happen to come mid-week). Hang your coat on the rack and give yourself a moment to take in the scene. In addition to making a reservation, I also recommend arriving early (there's valet parking) and giving yourself plenty of time for a martini or two at the bar, which is inevitably packed by friendly locals. The bar itself is gorgeous, if a little on the small side. The drinks are good, the bartenders attentive, the music low and the energy high.

There's a handful of specialty cocktails, with perennial standards like the Ruby Red and the Brentwood Cosmo, as well as some creative recipes that include the Peruvian Pisco Sour, Sazerac and French Kiss (the French Kiss, for instance: Absolut Vanilla, pineapple juice and a splash of Chambord chilled and served up). A local favorite is the Joie de Veev: Veev Acai liqueur, fresh ginger, lemon squeeze, Cointreau, simple syrup, and served chilled and up with a slice of crystallized ginger.

The wine list is incredible, and only a tad bit shorter than War and Peace. This is due in large part to the fact that Steve Wallace (of Wally's Wine) is a co-owner. There's also a fine selection of Scotch and other liquors. This is not a beer bar. The taps amount to four and the beer-drinkers number even less on any given evening.

The dining room is classically designed -- cozy leather booths, dark woods, candlelight, white tablecloths and a red rose. It's a throwback to a sophisticated era of fine dining, but with the casualness of the Westside that eschews formality and airs, "Smart casual," as Michael calls it, adding that the restaurant/lounge is, in a word, "accessible." Men look sharp in button-down shirts and slacks or jackets and jeans; and the women are stunning, whether in dresses or jeans. This is an ideal place to impress a date.

The menu was scripted by a hardened carnivore, and features an Italian subplot. There are classics here, to be sure: the bone-in filet mignon chop is a signature dish. And the baby back ribs are famous. You'll also find the New Zealand rack of lamb, prime bone-in rib eye, Kansas City prime New York and other fine steakhouse essentials, and all served with fitting sides. There's also a Jidori chicken, which comes fried or roasted, and chicken vegetable chili. The restaurant is also known for its farmers' market vegetable salad (add the burrata to really make it sing).

For dessert, the seasonal fruit cobbler is tremendous (right now, blueberry cobbler) and the chocolate bread pudding, with vanilla bean and chocolate sauce is hard to beat. Top it off with an old glass of Port or a Cognac, and you're in Heaven.

Another treat: The entire menu is also available at the bar. Still not persuaded? Consider this: There's a late-night menu, as well. From 10 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday (and the pizza is available Sunday and Monday).

The prices run a little steep ($16.50 burger & fries -- not just any fries, maybe the best fries in town; $26.50 fish & chips; and steaks will set you back upwards of about $35), but the portions are substantial. And you'll want a doggie bag - it's too good to leave behind.

Whether you're a Brentwood local or a venturing foodie looking for a friendly new destination, Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge is a can't-miss must-do. Say hello to Michael and Justin. And if you see me there, come say hi to me too.