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Past Perfect

April 05, 1987| Compiled by Steven Smith

Tired of the terribly tony? If you're morose about modern or resentful of restaurants that are too hip and too loud, why not go back to the tried and true? These recently reviewed restaurants, all serve the kind of food that's been around for a while. AMBROSIA ROOM (Grand Teton Chalet/Classic and Antique Club, 625 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7559.) Inside the Ambrosia Room you have the feeling of being in a jewel box: its immense crystal-and-gold chandelier hangs from a small ceiling dome painted trompe l'oeil -fashion with birds and clouds. The food is old-time Continental, and while there's a tendency to turn every course into dessert with cream and sweet liqueur, there's still a good duck pate with pistachios, a remarkably fine spinach salad with a generous helping of bacon, and a tasty breast of pheasant. Now in its third incarnation, Ambrosia is still a place for a fancy time; both jacket and tie are required for men. Lunch, Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $60-$90.

THE BROWN DERBY (911 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (213) 469-5151 or (818) 796-7139.) This re-creation of the legendary Hollywood hot spot (which closed in 1975) has been a sellout since its opening last year. It offers good-old American continental food that's familiar, well prepared and served with a fatherly touch in a classic ambiance. The famous Cobb salad, an old Brown Derby invention, is still excellent; the grapefruit cake and the apple pie are intact, and delicious. Appetizers like oysters Rockefeller and chicken salad are so large they would constitute full orders elsewhere. (Jacket and tie for men are still required.) Lunch, Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly. Reservations. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $20-$40.

DAN TANA'S (9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 275-9444.) Walk into this classic Hollywood haunt and you feel instantly embraced; even the parking valets give you a smile and hope you have a nice meal. The room is dim. There are red-checked tablecloths and dusty bottles of Chianti that have hung from the ceiling for 20 years. And the food comes in two basic varieties: red and white. The red food consists of dishes like squishy spaghetti and good red meat; the white dishes include linguine Alfredo, sauteed whitefish and veal piccata. This is old-fashioned food, but Tana's is an old-fashioned place: unpretentious, professional, comforting. Open for dinner nightly. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $30-$70.

FAB'S ITALIAN KITCHEN (4336 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 995-2933.) This down-home restaurant has a large, loyal following. Fab's hearty, cheery warmth is supplied by the customers; the tone is comfortably informal. The menu offers expected dishes (spaghetti with meatballs, linguine with clam sauce, old-fashioned pizzas), but nightly specials can also be interesting: One night there was rape , the slim, slightly bitter Italian green, served over spaghetti and sweet Italian sausage. Shrimp Fab, another specialty, isn't just shrimp but a big helping of seafood soaked in spicy red sauce and arranged over linguine. Lunch and dinner daily. V, MC. Beer and wine. Street and lot parking. Dinner for two, $15-$30.

LE CELLIER (2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (213) 828-1585.) There's something very familiar about the 18-year-old Le Cellier: the plush banquettes, the giant fake ficus tree, the food served on the same beige food plates it came on in Greenwich Village years ago when you tasted your first coq au vin . Now, the food is double the price, but nostalgia is a compensation. There's a good onion soup; a plump, crisp-skinned half duckling with a pleasant, sweet raspberry sauce, served with delicious morsels of brown potatoes, pea pods and carrots; a tender, white veal chop served with braised vegetables; chateaubriand in red wine sauce topped with white discs of bone marrow. This isn't Spago, but a cozy trip back to a more innocent time. Open for dinner Tue.-Sun. V, MC, AE. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $35-$60.

LE PETIT MOULIN (714 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (213) 395-6619.) This is a French-American restaurant d'un certain age. Unpretentious and cozy, it's a Smithsonian diorama come alive. You'll recognize the copper pots, bric-a-brac and painted plates on the walls. You'll recognize the victuals on the menu (stuffed mushrooms fines herbes, lapin, creme caramel) and the care with which most are made. Pate, made on the premises, is fresh and wild. Hot spinach salad comes lushly dressed with vodka and Canadian bacon. As for the entrees, fresh mahi-mahi comes crusted with lemon and almonds, rack of lamb is properly pink . . . and don't miss the pear chunks in pear brandy sauce accompanying the juicy, crisp duck. Dinner, Mon.-Sat. Reservations. MC, V. Beer and wine. Street parking. Dinner for two, $30-$65.

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