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The Familiar Chez Nous Is Still Satisfying

August 14, 1986|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

Good points about Chez Nous, a restaurant in Toluca Lake, are its cheerful informality, its smart, bright, white look and the sweep of windows that fills it with light during the day. A friend who lives in the neighborhood raves about the breakfasts. The line extends out the door on weekends, she says. Lunch is also crowded. Midweek, there were people waiting for tables at 1:30 p.m., when lunch is normally over.

Dinner is fairly quiet and has a different, more expensive menu than the list of salads, pastas, croissants, quiches and sandwiches that are popular midday. My latest dinner there included some wonderful food. Mussels with 15-spice butter did not taste as if the chef had cleaned out the spice cabinet, although that is what the name suggests. The mussels were hot, buttery and seasoned enough to be interesting but not overpowering. The dinner salad, lettuce with a little arugula, was attractive.

The house pate, a chicken mixture presented in slablike triangles, was at the same time hearty and delicate. And the bread, which waiters carried about the room in big coiled baskets, was fresh and good, as it should be, since Chez Nous is also a bakery with counters of pastries and breads for sale.

The restaurant shows off its croissants in a variation on eggs Benedict that employs a split croissant instead of the usual English muffin. This light, flaky base seemed to me an improvement on the classic presentation. The big, crusty roll used for the hamburger puts it several notches above those housed in ordinary buns.

Chez Nous does not make its own pasta, but the noodles in fettuccine Provencale on the lunch menu had good texture. And the dish itself was pleasing with its fresh tomato and basil sauce.

Nice ideas for lunch are the fruit and cheese and the charcuterie (salami, prosciutto, pate) and cheese plates. These are available in full orders or half orders that are generous enough for two.

Chez Nous has undergone a series of changes. The menu and wine list have been rewritten, and a new, more formal, dining area has been added. The bar extending across the new room is empty because the liquor license that applies to the old part does not cover the addition. However, an extension has been applied for.

Perhaps the changes led to some confusion because one evening things just didn't work well. A plate of chicken yakisoba , introduced as a house special, was an unappetizing brown mash of noodles overdosed with hot seasoning. And "colorful salad with chicken" was not the tempting presentation the name implied but a bland dieter's dish.

Early on, Chez Nous earned a reputation for seafood. There was a wonderful dish of lotte in shrimp sauce, which has disappeared from the new dinner menu, and an excellent first course of scallops in saffron sauce that was offered as a special. The bakery plays a role in salmon with dill and mustard in a puff pastry crust, which has been retained. When I had the salmon, the dish came steaming from the oven, the salmon tender and moist, the pastry untainted by sogginess. Grilled sea bass topped with herb butter met the standards of the seafood-loving companion who ordered it.

Among the meat dishes, veal medallions with sorrel sauce were dry and chewy, but pork tenderloin with black cherry sauce turned out well, its sauce showing a fine balance between fruit and savory when it could have been syrupy and cloying.

Although its name is French, Chez Nous seems less European than contemporary Californian. The food picks up on such fads as baby vegetables and peppercorn sauces, but tends toward the familiar and satisfying rather than innovative.

Chez Nous, 10550 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, (818) 760-0288. Open 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Takes Visa and MasterCard. Reservations for dinner only. Daytime reservations limited to large groups. Park in lot behind the restaurant or on the street.

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