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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Grazing in a Menagerie of Appetizers

July 11, 1986|RUTH REICHL

At Malibu, the idea is to do everything bigger. At Menagerie (3347 Motor Ave., (213) 202-8808) the idea is to do everything smaller. This, you see, is an "Appetizer Dining Bar" where something called "fashion cuisine" is served.

"Welcome to our sushiless sushi bar," says the man at the door. It does, indeed, look like a sushi bar. Except that instead of watching elegant chefs slice fish with dazzling grace you sit and stare at a group of young people folding mushrooms into aluminum pillows, deep-frying chunks of sesame-encrusted chicken and assembling rather bizarre salads. It is all very friendly and well-intentioned . . . and rather strange.

What do you say about a dish called "Venus balls" that seems to be spheres of mashed yams covered in raspberry sauce? "It's very famous," said our waitress. She also recommended the crab rolls; these turn out to be what you get when you mate an egg roll with a California roll. I thought it was quite good. The beef and scallion roll took a different twist; it was just slices of ginger and soy-marinated beef rolled around scallions.

The point here is to eat a lot of little dishes. The problem is that some of the dishes are so, um, unusual, that you find yourself quickly running up a rather large bill. While this may be a creative new concept in cuisine, my response to this new-wave food is a sudden yearning for the tried and the true.

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