Cravings, on Sunset Plaza, has the style of a place your mother would open if she were, say, a Beverly Hills matron who liked to cook. Inside are floral chintz tablecloths down to the floor, wallpaper to match, a piano player on a baby grand tinkling his way through "Tea for Two."
The menu is a medley of all your old and new favorites and word is that the owner asks patrons what they crave and plans to make adjustments to suit them. As it is, the menu goes on for pages, listing pastas and pizzas, pates and cheese, hamburgers, German franks, roast chicken and comfort foods like meatloaf, veal pot pie, macaroni and cheese, chili, stews and milk toast.
Trouble is, well-meaning as your mother might be, and generous as she makes her portions, she might not be the best cook in the world, or at least not all the time. The food here has nowhere near the ambition or purity of a place like Cafe Katsu, with its fresh baby lettuce and delicate dressing, its inventive, classy entrees and state-of-the-art desserts. Nothing delicate about this food. Some of it is, in fact, stuff you push around on your plate so as not to hurt Mom's feelings, like the undercooked, not-quite-fresh salmon, the pallid meatloaf, the heavy biscuits and dried-out smoked fish that come with your bagel and scrambled eggs.
Still, there are dishes for which you don't have to fake it, and which may, in fact, become cravings. There's a grilled chicken salad that's delicious: tender chicken perfectly cooked and mellowed with some marinade, sitting atop crisp, vinegary cucumbers--a very pleasant contrast in tastes and textures; a good pizza that's not stingy with its toppings of sausage, cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms; a lamb stew that may not break any culinary ground, but is prime comfort food--the meat cooked until it's falling apart in a dense, dark, rich gravy. There's wonderful grilled baby eggplant that's served with many entrees; terrific little roast potatoes and buttery sauteed apples and onions that come with the pork chops; first-rate potato latkes with wonderfully smooth, thick applesauce. The coffee, too, is very good, though the desserts are like something Mom might have picked up at the supermarket bakery to save time.
The food, however, won't be this restaurant's main attraction. People will come there for comfort, which, as always, is Mom's strong suit. The place is accessible--free parking right behind the building--and it's relaxing, a place in which to linger, without the oppressive hormonal buzz of people on the make and in a hurry and hungry for your table at, say Chin Chin, which is right across the street but seems light years and generations away. Also, the place is open long hours, from breakfast right through dinner and into the night. And the best thing about the restaurant is that the life of it is mainly outside, on tables in the patio and along the sidewalk--pleasant under shady umbrellas in the daytime, and at night, warm under heat lamps, affording a lovely view between the buildings across the street of the lights of the city below.
Cravings, 8657 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-6893. Open for breakfast Mondays-Saturdays, 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m.; brunch Sundays, 9 a.m-3 p.m.; lunch Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner Tuesdays-Sundays, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; late-night supper Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.-closing. Wine and beer only. Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Dinner or lunch for two, food only, $20-$45.