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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Pretty Pretty Food Food at Philippe Philippe

November 14, 1986|RUTH REICHL

"Look, it's not a dungeon anymore," remarked my friend as we walked into what used to be Gatsby's. When the new Philippe Philippe (11500 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (213) 820-1476) opened a week ago it had been transformed into an open room filled with soft colors, plushy banquettes and the sort of gentle lighting that makes everybody look pretty.

Not, however, as pretty as the plates that come from the kitchens. These are so lovingly arranged that even the appetizers look like dessert. Consider little sandwiches of grilled eggplant, filled with cucumber, yogurt and feta cheese--they are arranged like a pinwheel around a spray of fennel. The entrees are even more impressive: The veal chop was laid against a swirled pattern of pureed red and yellow peppers, prettier than any birthday cake. I hesitated before I spoiled the arrangement with my fork.

This handsome food, as you have probably surmised by now, has a decidedly eccentric California accent. Dishes like grapefruit gravlax, breast of duck with strawberry and endive, and wontons filled with confit of duck all sound slightly offbeat. I liked what I tried, but I'll admit to reservations about some of the more exotic combinations. Appetizers run $4 to $9, entrees $14 to $22.

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