WHAT PUTS A CALIFORNIA GIRL LIKE MARISKA HARGITAY IN A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND? Bridges, Barneys, and Bar Americain

Mariska Hargitay is a born-and-bred Californian, but the way in which she is bullying me into saying her name correctly is so very East Coast. "It's Marishhhhhka! You know, like there's an H," she tells me with a hint of New York thuggery in her voice.

Yes, I'm afraid the Left Coast has lost this classic California girl, the daughter of quintessential 1950s bombshell Jayne Mansfield and actor Mickey Hargitay. It's not terribly surprising, given that Mariska Hargitay has called the Big Apple home for 10 months of the year every year since she struck acting gold in 1999 on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Actually, Hargitay is anything but intimidating. That is, if the presence of a beautiful woman doesn't make you nervous. From her whimsical, neckline-cropped 'do to her poised, street-savvy swagger, she oozes confidence - much like her character, Detective Olivia Benson - but immediately makes you feel at ease with her carefree mannerisms and mischievous grin. (Unless you happen, after at least 10 correct pronunciations, to let slip a slightly incorrect articulation of her forename between bites of grilled portobello mushroom.)

But it is the bling she is sporting that hints at the much more playful personal side of Hargitay - a contrast to her Golden Globe-winning performance on a hit show that's anything but a laugh riot. Riding a fine line between hip-hop bling and royal bling, Hargitay's gold necklace and attached charm are borderline obnoxious for anyone not named Diddy. And rightfully so: This is Jayne Mansfield bling.

"This is the only thing I have from my mother," she tells me. (Mansfield died in a 1967 automobile accident.) "She had a charm bracelet, but I never wore it because it was big and clangy. So I had all the charms taken off, and Loree Rodkin - she is one of my favorite designers - made it into a necklace for me. I get stopped on the street for my bling. But are you ready for this? My father gave these to my mother when I was born. It has my name on it. Mariska Magdolina."

Heavy? Not in the least. Hargitay exudes the same sort of fervent lust for life as her mother - even when speaking of her death. You just know when you stare through her piercing chocolate-browns, there is a wealth of experience waiting to be pounced upon.

"Do you need to know everything about me?" Hargitay asks sweetly. "Pretty much," I tell her.