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Restaurants : They're Eating In Style At The Angel City Grill

October 10, 1986|L.N. HALLIBURTON

I am thinking of Fred Astaire and spinach salad, Ginger Rogers and pizza with spicy shrimp, Hermes Pan and burnt creme brulee. Why? The Angel City Grill: another post-modern evocation of a movie musical past, shaken (not stirred) with a dash of California cuisine.

Theatricalized restaurant awards (shall we call them "Wolfie's"?) can't be far off. No doubt, Angel City will be a contender in the category for excellence in set decoration in pink, black and gray venues. There are the glass bricks, the silver sconces, the twinkling candles, the centrally located potted palm. I'd nominate the dusky lighting too.

While the decor reads Fred and Ginger, my first dinner there had an undercurrent of Groucho Marx. My friend and I, sitting in a booth so pretty and so small, kicked each other's ankles throughout the meal. We stopped saying "excuse me" after the first course.

While Groucho might have worked wonders with an oxymoronic line in the press release ("The style is luxury, but accessible luxury"), it's true that nothing--even the steak and salmon--is over $11.95. The versatile menu ranges from Caesar salad, designer pizzas and hamburgers to seafood pancakes, lots of freshly grilled fish and iconic desserts.

Large, crisp and radiant salads had dressings that really needed a second take. The blue cheese vinaigrette on the mix of spinach, bacon, tomatoes and Maui onions was watery and barely squeaked of blue cheese. The liquidy dressing on the mighty Caesar (and the half portion is zaftig too) barely stuck to the greens. (But the service was extra friendly and the hot sourdough French bread, so good. And besides, the chatty room and beautifully lit extras radiated good times. . . . )

Grilled sea bass, succulent and gently cooked, was inventively set on a dark brunette Cabernet ginger butter and served with home-style properly lumpy mashed potatoes fluted into a graceful flower and sprinkled with fresh dill. A yellowtail steak cloaked in a light ginger-soy sauce was fish-market-fresh. Both entrees were served with, thank goodness, normal- sized, underdone vegetables and, thank the stars, a stellar sweet potato puree.

We split a tangle of tagliatelle primavera festooned with both pine nuts and a light basil cream. Mixed with metaphors or not, it worked.

Although there are two rooms and an outdoor veranda with plenty of handsome black tables and chairs, at brunch another day my friend and I wound up in one of the small booths (there are larger booths but they are for parties of four or more) and kicked our way through the meal.

Someone in the kitchen has a predilection for dill but uses it with a tentative hand: chicken salad filled with plump white meat morsels was lackadaisically dressed; the white raisins and dill canceled each other out. Tagliatelle in its "bruncheon" outfit came with sweet juicy chunks of fresh salmon, artfully scrambled eggs and a hesitant hand of dill.

Pizza with a generous portion of tender shrimp and a grassy field of scallions was golden and wonderful--but what happened to the promised ginger and coriander? The perfectly straightforward Angel City hamburger is worth its weight in platinum. Charcoal broiled and juicy, it even came on a fresh whole wheat sesame-studded bun.

It's easy to linger over a meal here. The music is upbeat, and frankly, the backdrop (low lights, big city and all) made me feel I was out On the Town. It's worth staying for dessert--at least for the adult brandied pecan tart and the flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. The creme brulee really was burnt, and each mouthful reminded me of blackened marshmallows from campfires long ago. Well maybe Angel City is not antithetical to one Shirley Temple. Move over, Ginger and Fred. But watch out for your ankles and shins.

Angel City Grill, 7505 Melrose Ave ., West Hollywood. (213) 655-0955. Open for dinner nightly as well as for lunch on weekends. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Dinner for two (food only), $15-$55.

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