Changing attractions at the Music Center include its street level restaurant. First there was the Curtain Call, which gave way to the Hungry Tiger, which ended its run in August. The new occupant of the site is Otto Rothschilds Bar and Grill. And it is packing in such crowds that on show days reservations can be difficult to obtain. The restaurant is not only a natural stop for theatergoers but a godsend for people who work in the new business district on Bunker Hill, where eating places are in short supply.
The location alone could guarantee success. But Rothschilds isn't coasting on that advantage. The concessionaire, W. R. Grace Co., has put considerable effort into the entire package--food, service and environment. The furnishings have been lightened, which gives a fresher look. Vases on the tables sprout sprays of orchids. And the walls are lined with striking celebrity shots by the late photographer Otto Rothschild.
The Rothschild collection of some 50,000 photographs has been turned over to the Music Center Operating Archives, and about 400 are mounted in the restaurant. You can see Jimmy Durante mugging, Mary Martin advertising "South Pacific," John Lennon backstage at the Hollywood Bowl and much more. The photographs are displayed without captions, which means no one will lean over your lunch to read the small print.
Similar smart thinking has gone into the menu. The food is conventional enough for most tastes but there is some acknowledgement of contemporary trends with appetizers like raw beef with a creamy Parmesan sauce, fried Brie with jalapeno jelly and Sichuan grilled chicken tenderloins with peanut and teriyaki dipping sauces.
The oven-roasted rack of lamb, served at night, has a nice coating of Dijon-flavored crumbs and herbs. Since there are people who insist on mint jelly with lamb, the restaurant obliges with a little pot of awfully sweet, intensely green mint sauce. It doesn't suit the meat, but somebody out there will love it.
Dinners include salad--not conventional mixed greens but an Oriental shredded chicken salad that is strikingly handsome in its black dish. Framed with crisp rice noodles and won ton strips, decorated with green onion, sesame seeds and brilliant bits of red pickled ginger, the salad is an excellent example of the genre. But it certainly is an odd prelude to lamb chops, a hearty slab of roast beef or a steak.
Lunch may be the best time to eat at Rothschilds because that is when the bread sticks are served. Baked fresh several times a day, they're a bread-lover's downfall.
Sticks aside, Rothschilds offers a wise, health-oriented lunch. There is fish, well prepared, moist and tender. Entrees are accompanied by lightly steamed vegetables and no potatoes or rice. (Higher prices at dinner encompass not just the Oriental chicken salad but cheese-crusted creamed potatoes--in other words, more rich food for your riches.)
Recommended dishes include tortellini carbonara --white and green tortellini in a cream sauce with tiny bits of bacon and peas; linguine Alfredo, garnished with spoonfuls of golden and lumpfish caviar; pan-seared chicken breast, served on a bed of wild mushrooms and topped with enoki mushrooms, and tempura shrimp. The tempura is notable primarily for its unusual sauce, a blend of orange marmalade, orange juice and horseradish.
Dishes not recommended are bay scallops and mushroom saute and a "carameled" apple pancake that is served for breakfast. The scallops were brown, hard little nuggets. And the pancake was a tough disaster, which the waiter replaced at once with a stack of hot cakes studded with fresh raspberries. Rothschilds obviously wants to please its customers. At dinner, I almost had to batten down my plate of lamb chops. The waitress wanted to snatch it away when I said the chops weren't as pink as I liked.
Otto Rothschilds Bar and Grill, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 972-7322. Open 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Reservations advised. Most major credit cards accepted. No validated parking. Dinner entrees $9.95 to $19.95. Lunch dishes range from $5.95 for a hamburger to about $9 or $10 for daily fish specials.