Is it possible that city blocks, like houses, like families, can have curses on them, some ancient hex like: "Never here shall be a restaurant that makes it." Such a locale might be a scruffy little block of Sunset between Fairfax and La Brea, bordered by such as the Professional Waiters School, Gardner Drugs, Burt Plumbing.
Now, either in defiance or ignorance of the curse of the block, a new Czech restaurant has opened: Matuszeks. One critic has already given an approving nod. And Elmer Dills himself reportedly has filmed there this very week.
The thing about Matuszeks--or any Czech restaurant--is that you have to be in the mood for Czech cuisine, and that means hungry. Plates come heavy with chunks of meat of one sort or another, plus dumplings or potatoes, all of it swimming in a gravy sea. Not much here for a vegetarian; leave those wimps at home.
Forget also Matuszeks' list of reasonably priced California wines and stick with ice-cold bottles of Pilsner Urqell, a rich, tasty amber brew that suits this food just fine. Pull up a beer and a plate of sauteed chicken livers for starters. Sop up the butter/wine/bacon grease with store-bought sourdough. Slurp up a bowl of hot borscht, which at Matuszeks is not the usual beet borscht, but a nice, not-too-greasy broth stocked with potatoes, meat and sour cream.
The decor here is high-tech Czech, all clean lines and potted palms, a step upscale from its homely little \o7 Landsmann\f7 to the east, Hollywood Boulevard's Little Prague, with its rec-room walls and anti-Communist decor. The dishes offered, however, are pretty much the same, albeit cooked and served here by a young Czech couple who're David Byrne-thin and stylish.
There's \o7 Moravsky Vrabec, \f7 a dish in shades of white--lean chunks of pork that come with slices of potato dumpling and a pool of creamy caraway-seed-spiked sauerkraut (made creamy with a pale roux of bacon fat and flour). \o7 Kure na paprice\f7 is a terra-cotta-colored arrangement of boned breast of chicken paprika and sliced white flour dumplings, sauce of paprika-flavored sour cream. There are also dishes of chunks of veal; there's something called \o7 Svickova na smetane\f7 (marinated meat)--slices of a loaf that tastes like Spam might taste if it were made of beef. A change from all this is the fried veal cutlet, a non-greasy, crispy cutlet served with a mountain of Moravian potato salad, which, to one who has never visited Moravia, tasted like the stuff of a good old American Fourth of July.
Best of all that's offered here is the apple strudel that the slender Mrs. Matuszek makes for dessert, chock full of raisins and a taste of orange peel.
For my money, though, the food at the Little Prague is overall more interesting than the food here, even if the decor's funkier and the neighborhood's even scruffier. There, the bread's homemade--and if it's seeded rye, nothing's better. The pork stew's fiery, the goulash spicy. The Matuszeks' handling of food runs to the bland.
Still, the place is clean and bright, and the Matuszeks themselves so eager and pleasant that you find yourself wishing the place well, if for no other reason than to help bring that lost little block back to life.
\o7 Matuszeks, 7513 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 874-0106. Open for dinner only Monday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Street parking. No credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$40.\f7