One would wish for Cafe Legends to become the legend it should be, what with sitting at the doorstep of Paramount Studio.
But will it? We surely hope so.
Cafe Legends is the rather flamboyant replacement for the legendary Cafe Oblath's, which folded over and died a year ago from--who knows? Fatigue? Despondency? Not keeping up? Whatever.
Oblath's, you might remember, was an off-lot commissary serving movie stars and moguls for half a century. The food, served by motherly waitresses who were as much stars as the stars themselves, was basically Mexican-Anglo, some of the best to be found in town, it was said.
The booths were made of Naugahyde, the long counter always cluttered, the floor sawdusted, the help ancient and the decor as faded as the old movie memories it could no longer sustain in a fast-moving movie world.
One would have been deliriously happy to find a cleaned-up, updated version of Oblath's. Instead, the make-over by the new owners is a dramatic departure into another dimension. Prim, slightly prissy, difficult to pinpoint. The decor is semi-professional, but it's cheerful, or tries to be, with its hot salmon and forest green decor, sparkling Christmas lights on bared white branches, common banquet chairs and cloth-covered tablecloths (paper napkins). There is a high-action lumberjack, macho bar with an amateurish photo-painting of an early Gloria Swanson in the back that seems to belong to another kind of restaurant, giving the place a slightly schizophrenic look. I love the sweet little battery-operated lamps on the table. As far as I'm concerned, they're the best thing in the restaurant, besides the service, which is always courteous and willing, if not 100% able. The snap, snap, snap is not there.
Of the food, I remember one thing clearly: the blackened steak so blackened as to be inedible. "Is there anything wrong?" asked the waiter with genuine concern. And of course, I, like most customers brought face to face with a moment of truth, chose the cowardly way out and said, "'Oh, no. Thanks."
But it's unfair to single out a dish when there are others one can talk about with fair enthusiasm.
Legends seems to want to be all things to all people. Cajun, Mexican, Chinese, American, Italian, French nouvelle. There isn't a chef alive who masters all cuisines enough to count, or, more importantly, serve. Cajun blackened was off. Mexican chicken mole , beans and rice were off, Chinese chicken salad was off by a mile, the fettuccine. . . .
The Simple Things Worked
I liked the simple American things best. The coffee shop things. The California club sandwich, the crab cakes, great mashed potatoes, the Tollhouse pie, the cherry crisp and peach cobbler, although I had a bit of trouble with the concept, if not taste, of the meat loaf, which came to the table crisp outside and pink inside, as if it had been baked from a frozen state or simply turned over on the grill, heaven forbid.
Yet, I think the chef has promise. His taste buds are in the right place. All Legends needs is a little direction and some good, simple, unadulterated food.
Cafe Legends, 723 N. Bronson Ave., Hollywood, (213) 465-1662. Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10:30; Friday and Saturday until 11:30 p.m. Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner starts at 7:30. All major credit cards accepted. Reservations recommended. Valet parking available Wednesday through Saturday. Entrees from $3.75 to $9.95 for lunch; $7.95 to $13.95 for dinner.