One immutable law of restaurant dining is that of realistic expectations. At the Beachwood Cafe, for instance, it is foolish to order a Greek salad, though one is listed on the menu. The Beachwood, for all its knotty-pine charm, is a coffee shop, a place for egg creams and BLTs, pancakes and too much coffee.
The same law applies to the Hungry Tiger which, despite the trendy new mesquite/gumbo/saddle-of-lamb menu in force at its 15 Southern California outlets, is still the same old portion-controlled, familiar place, positioned in the market, according to a Hungry Tiger Company spokesman, as "a good-value, seafood-based, upscale dinner house, a comfortable place where you can go wearing anything from a tux to a polo shirt."
Comfortable, the restaurants are, with big, roomy chairs, relaxed atmosphere, obliging service. Purveyors of haute cuisine, they are not. Clam chowder is thick as library paste; salad comes swimming in dressing; wild rice tastes more like wild-Riceroni. Potato skins topped with bacon, scallions and melted cheese, however, are delicious; plain broiled fish is fine; and the chocolate cake is rich, dark and luscious. At least, that was my experience on recent visits to the Hungry Tiger in Westwood.
We started with cocktails and a Tiger Iced Seafood Feast appetizer, "a sampler of jumbo shrimp, fresh oysters, littleneck clams and Alaskan snow crab claws," all of it good and fresh. We also tried "Tiger" Wings, deep fried, somewhat greasy chicken wings served with a blue cheese salad dressing dip. They packed a spicy-hot wallop that really woke up the taste buds. But the bland, homogenized gumbo soup put them right back to sleep.
On one visit, dinner was something of a disaster. We ordered steak, a strange choice, perhaps, at a "seafood-based" restaurant. But the company rep had said that with the new menu, they wanted to broaden their range to bring in meat-eaters. They offered pork spare ribs, chicken teriyaki, lamb and steak.
Apparently, the steak wasn't selling fast enough.
"This steak is rotten," said one friend, and I thought he was referring to the quality of the meat . . . until I tasted it. Then I realized it was rotten, as in "gone bad." It tasted like charcoal-broiled blue cheese, in case you're wondering. The waiter was as horrified as we were and brought us a replacement, which was a very good steak. Afterward the hostess kept asking if everything was all right.
We also tried the Seafood Gumbo Feast, a big bowl containing the very same ingredients as the Seafood Feast Appetizer (minus the ice) submerged in the awful gumbo soup and some of the wild-Riceroni. Another dish, broiled lobster, was fine, though as a New Englander spoiled by lobster fresh from cold North Atlantic waters, no lobster on the West Coast satisfies me.
Another night, things went better, not so much because of the sea scallops sauteed with mushrooms and scallions, which were drowned in much too much wine, but because of the fresh, mesquite-broiled fish. We tried the orange roughy (they also offer swordfish, salmon, sea bass and baby salmon, Idaho trout and red snapper, $7.95-$14.95) and it was delicious--just the right degree of doneness, delicate, fresh and buttery.
If you go there, get the fish. Or, if you can get there between 5 and 7 p.m., try the special prime-rib dinner, which comes with chowder, salad or gumbo (order salad, tell them to go easy on the dressing), a baked potato, wild rice or vegetables (get the potato--vegetables tend to be overcooked), a special dessert (lately, a sundae), good French bread and a beverage, all for $7.95! One more thing. The Hungry Tiger at the Music Center has a limited version of the new menu; things have to be kept simple there to get the theater crowd out in time.
Hungry Tiger, 936 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. Reservations: 213/208-8277. Two hour validated parking. All major credit cards. Open, Monday-Thursday, 11:30-10; Friday, 11:30-11; Saturday, 5-11; Sunday, 4-10. Dinner for two, $30-$50, food only.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: There are basically four kinds of Indian restaurants. The difference between the plain ones and the fancy ones is obvious, but it takes some tasting to separate those restaurants that cook everything with the same spices (so that everything tastes more or less the same) from those that blend different spices for each dish. It is the latter sort of Indian restaurant that is most rewarding, for each meal becomes a real symphony of flavors. Hollywood's new India Inn Tandoori Restaurant (1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd.) seems to fall into the plain but tasty category.
The small restaurant is inexpensive (you can eat well for under $10), but it has a gracious air. And the food is cooked with a practiced hand: chicken vindaloo is hot and biting, lamb rogan josh is filled with fresh vegetables, and even the dal is seasoned with freshly ground spices. The service is such that the tandoori dishes arrive still sizzling noisily.