The Trident Room surely has the shortest hours of any serious restaurant in Los Angeles: It is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., period. It is, in other words, a lunch place. It keeps the hours of a corporate dining room--a corporate dining room that doesn't serve breakfast. It even looks like a corporate dining room, subdued and not unattractive in appearance but somehow un-restaurant-looking, as if it were an afterthought. (Why don't we knock out a couple of walls in that extra conference room, fellas, and keep the boys in the building at noontime?) Lucky would be the corporation, though, that had the Trident's Belgian-born chef, Berty Siegels, on the property.
The Trident is a corporate dining room, in a way: It's hidden in the Trident Center building on Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles, advertised on the outside but not particularly easy to find--and indeed most of its clientele apparently work in the building. But Siegels and manager Tim O'Brien--whom we last saw watching over the proceedings at the late lamented Max au Triangle in Beverly Hills--would love to welcome more outsiders into their restaurant, and are serving up good-enough food at low-enough prices that they ought to be able to do it.
The menu is small and changes every few months, with specials daily. Appetizers might include a delicate crab and avocado flan with raw tomato coulis ; homemade gravlax with little accompanying salads of raw mushrooms, avocado and matchstick-size bars of cucumber, or a warm bay scallop salad with watercress, radicchio, sauteed sweet peppers and the sweet-sour bite of little grapefruit pieces. There are two or three soups daily--an excellent black bean one day, for instance, in which the beans could really be tasted, or a mussel soup with saffron and with almost but not quite too much orange zest. There is also a perfect Cobb salad and a less-than-perfect red bell pepper stuffed with minced smoked duck and chicken in hazelnut vinaigrette (an interesting idea that never knits together).
As this little catalogue of starters might suggest, Siegels seems to be trying to marry contemporary French recipes with more traditional American "lunch food" and with a ration of the New-American. I think his most successful dishes, with a few exceptions (that Cobb salad, for instance, which isn't really a "chef's dish" anyway), are the ones in which he stays closest to his European roots. Thus, he had recently turned out a wonderful preparation of lamb, rarish and thinly sliced, with morel and enoki mushrooms, moistened with just enough rich red-wine-and-cream sauce to dress it up, but not enough to weigh it down; a very tender veal chop of impeccable quality, again with mushrooms; a (new) classic preparation of sliced duck breast in fresh raspberry sauce, and a piece of grilled fresh tuna on a bed of shredded leeks, with a buttery fresh tomato sauce, that would have done any local temple of French gastronomy proud. (Except for one thing: The fish was cooked gray--this despite the fact that the waiter had stressed that the chef preferred to cook it rare, and had been given the diner's assurance that that was just the way he wanted it.)
One fine dish that was European only in basic inspiration, but that nonetheless pleased me mightily, was a special one day of thick, chewy, deckle-edged ravioli stuffed with ground veal and tossed in a freshly made marinara-like sauce. A mesquite-broiled chicken breast marinated in lime sauce with ginger, on the other hand, was too tart, and not gingery enough, and was cloaked in a brown sauce with a tomato-paste flavor.
The only homemade dessert here is cheesecake; on one occasion, it was quite good--very moist and slightly sour, on a crust that tasted slightly caramelized; on another, it was bland, and the crust resembled a wedge of solidified shortening. A handful of French and California wines--no more than five or six at a time--are offered by the glass. There is no regular wine list.
Down the hall from the Trident Room, and run by the same proprietors, is an informal, cafeteria-style place called the Courtside Bistro. Competently made salads (Chinese chicken, cold pasta, etc.) are sold by the pound, and there is a do-it-yourself salad bar; hamburgers are decent, in the coffee shop idiom; the steam-table dishes I've sampled, though, haven't been very impressive (I'd be surprised--and disappointed--if Siegels had anything to do with them), and a special one day of "pepper beef" was bland, nearly pepperless and leaden with grease.