What do potato pancakes, hamburgers, Caesar salad and lemon mousse have in common? Not much, except that they are all terrific at Options, a little discovery of a place on La Brea, a few doors south of Melrose.
Then there's the pizza, which is simply unbeatable. One night, the white pizza, a blend of pale cheeses dotted here and there with pesto (or with garlic), was overbaked, to its advantage. That golden circle of thin, crisp crunchiness was memorable. Baked to normal doneness, the pizza is still superior, if you like crusts that are thin and light.
The arrival of Options indicates that trendy Melrose is branching off onto La Brea, a hopeful sign for that drab artery. The City restaurant has opened farther south, followed by a flashy looking apparel store in the same block. Options' neighbor is the Showcase, a renovation of the old Gordon movie theater.
The restaurant has charm--the result of ideas, not money. Loftlike, it has a few tables downstairs, more upstairs, some oddly interesting artwork on the walls and pots of succulents in the windows. The sturdy planked flooring came from demolished sets at Universal Studios. A bargain outlet yielded whimsical frog and hippo-shaped table accessories that look like made-to-order ceramics.
On the Fringes
The people who put this together are Mary Miller and Ed Amoroso, former East Coasters and, amazingly, non-cooks until they opened the restaurant last June. Miller, the chief partner, was formerly in the retail clothing business. Amoroso, the chef, was at least on the fringes. He has worked as a captain at Windows on the World in New York City, and his father owns a restaurant in Rhode Island.
The menu is a grab bag of dishes. But it works well and provides many ways to put together dinner for $10 or less. Miller, having eaten out nightly for 15 years, banked on the demand for good food served in a comfortable environment at a reasonable price.
She and Amoroso composed the menu of things they like to eat, dishes gathered from such disparate sources as Tavern on the Green in New York (the Caesar salad, which Miller claims is the best in town, and it may well be); Kathy Gallagher in Los Angeles (a fig-and-bacon appetizer), Miller's Polish mother (the potato pancakes and the hamburger, which contains egg and onion) and a computer transmission (the lemon mousse, an intensely flavored blend of lemon and sugar, whipped cream and beaten egg white).
A Light Hand
Amoroso cooks with a light hand. The big entree plates of chicken or fish in various sauces served over pasta and garnished with barely cooked vegetables look overwhelming, but they are not. He is also consistent. The pasta, which is made at the restaurant, is cooked to the right degree each time. And one dish does not outshine another. As much care goes into the tuna salad as the chicken breast in Dijon-flavored cream sauce with mushrooms.
Only fresh ingredients are used. Shopping is done twice a day, if necessary. And everything is prepared by hand. That means no mixer, even for the pizza dough or the New England style sour milk chocolate cake.
Prices are low--$4.95 for the hamburger plate, which includes a salad; $6.95 for the chicken and fish dishes on pasta, $2.75 for a small version of any of the salads and $2.50 for a bowl of soup. But the plates are well presented. The servings are generous. And bread, with wonderful apricot-flavored butter, comes with the meal.
Options, 606 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, (213) 937-1874. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Accepts Diner's Club, American Express, Carte Blanche. Street parking.