Downtown L.A. offers a huge array of choices for business meals.  But you’ll make your boss happy not only by picking out a top-notch restaurant, but by avoiding over-priced culinary blowouts that look bad on an expense report.

The south end of the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall houses Patina – it’s a soothingly elegant restaurant, with an interior of dark greens and browns, illuminated by latticed yellow lighting fixtures.  The dinner menu tends to a sophisticated international style, and is not cheap.  But there is a 2-course business lunch special that costs just $25, with the same highly-attentive service that you receive for a far heftier check (a recent special consisted of squash soup with micro-cilantro, followed by lamb croquettes over fava beans).  Patina is the crown jewel of a restaurant group with many constituents – and the sister restaurant Cafe Pinot is also worth visiting, and not just for the inventive California cuisine.  This “California bistro” sits in the public garden of the Central Library, and there’s nothing like cypresses and flowers blowing gently in the breeze to take your mind off of a hectic week – did you forget that this is L.A., where it’s generally sunny even in late October?

Patina can claim to be the best restaurant downtown in part because longtime powerhouse The Water Grill lost its chef, who departed to start the rapturously-praised Providence (which is accessible only by a drive to Hollywood).  The Water Grill still makes for a fine meal though, in spite of the somewhat dated wood bar and beige-toned mural. The menu will appeal if you like meticulously-prepared fish that incorporates a crazy-quilt of international flavors, from foams to cous-cous to chorizo to the German pasta called spatzle.  The “fruits of the sea platter,” consisting of a huge range of chilled shellfish over ice, is a delicious way to eat light, and costs a not unreasonable $35/person. 

Across the street at the Hilton is the Checkers Downtown Restaurant, which combines fussiness and casual comfort in a way that has made the place a mainstay for L.A. power lunches.  The white tablecloths, stiff-backed chairs, and reticent wait staff give the place a coldly-formal feel.  But downing a smoky steak sandwich or a buttery crab cake as natural light streams in from high windows will have you feeling like a local insider.

Over at Cicada, the pricey Northern Italian menu is decent, but the real draw is the richly evocative art-deco dining room, originally constructed during the roaring 1920s.  And for a more casual atmosphere, make your way over to Wood Spoon, which serves Brazilian specialties like roasted meats and the fried minced chicken dumplings called coxhina.  The narrow front door opens into a high-ceilinged dining room, where colorful abstract paintings adorn white walls.  The huge strip of cinnamon that flavors the carafe of cold water on your table is a great symbol of the chef’s attention to detail.

Patina (1 lunch course $9-26; 2 course prix fixe business lunch special $25; 1 dinner course $17-49;) – Take the red or purple lines to “Civic Center,” and walk uphill on Temple to Grand; to avoid the climb, take DASH Bus Route B)
  
Cafe Pinot (lunch entrees $17-30, dinner entrees $22-38), Water Grill (lunch entrees $25-46; dinner entrees $33-48), Checkers Downtown (lunch entrees $12-26; dinner entrees $15-32) , Cicada (dinner only, entrees from $23-42) -- red, purple or blue line to 7th St/Metro Center).

Wood Spoon (salads $8, sandwiches $8-10, Brazilian grill $11) – Take DASH Bus Route E to 9th St. and Los Angeles – walk west past Main and Spring St. to 107 W. 9th St.)