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When Suzanne Goin and her boyfriend, David Lentz, decided to throw their first Fourth of July party, the two Los Angeles chefs knew one thing: They wouldn't serve hamburgers and hot dogs. For Lentz, that menu is too simplistic. For Goin, it's too much trouble: "Burgers are high-maintenance food," she explains. "Someone says, 'Well done and no cheese, please.' Then another person says, 'No bun, I'm on Atkins and I have to go to Pilates.'"

Ordinarily, the couple barely have time to see each other, let alone cook together. Last November Lentz opened Opaline, a formal restaurant by Southern California standards (sweetbreads are always on the menu). A few weeks later, Goin—an F&W Best New Chef 1999—launched A.O.C., a wine bar serving dishes with a mix of Mediterranean influences, while still running the popular Lucques. The two chefs started dating in the spring of 2001, soon after Lentz moved to Los Angeles. He'd admired Goin's picture in Food & Wine and started hanging out at Lucques hoping to meet her.

Since Lentz and Goin recently moved into a 1930s Monterey Spanish—style cottage in Laurel Canyon, the Independence Day party is a housewarming as well. Gathered on the flagstone patio, their friends drink bourbon-spiked Lynchburg lemonade and glasses of Paige 23 Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara County, made by Goin's friend Kimberly Jones. In the spirit of the holiday, Lentz and Goin lay out baskets of American flag temporary tattoos.

Lentz starts pan-frying soft-shell crabs, a favorite from his Baltimore childhood, then layers them with creamy slaw in a baguette; he'll serve slices as a hot, crispy appetizer. For the main course, Goin grills two North African—spiced kebabs: one with chunks of halibut marinated in charmoula (a mix of cilantro, parsley and cumin steeped in oil), skewered with lemon and bay leaves; a second with sausage, onion and pepper, brushed with harissa, the chile-based sauce. In addition, Goin serves fregola (also known as Italian couscous) salad with pine nuts and caramelized red onion and a fruit salad with an intriguing mix of sweet and savory—nectarines, blackberries, arugula and salted almonds. For dessert, she pours fresh tangelo juice over vanilla ice cream to create tangy, homemade Creamsicles.

After dinner, everyone heads outside to light sparklers, and Lentz becomes nostalgic for his family's annual celebrations with hot dogs and not-quite-legal fireworks in Maryland. "Maybe next year we can do something interesting with hamburgers," he says optimistically. Goin agrees, with one caveat: as long as Lentz does the cooking.

Published July 2003
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