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Some Frond Memories Of Palm Court

June 21, 1987|COLMAN ANDREWS

The Palm Court, 11111 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 479-1400. Open Monday-Friday, 7:30 to 11 a.m. (breakfast), 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch), 3 to 7 p.m. (cocktails and hors d'oeuvres). Validated parking. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch for two (food only), $25-$40.

It is one of the great secrets of the restaurant reviewer's trade that, as a class, most of us genuinely want to like the restaurants we address. We approach each new eating place hopefully and occasionally even a bit dewy-eyed. We expect the best. We long to be the bearers of good news.

Popular opinion (and the plaints of panned innkeepers) to the contrary, we'd much rather write straightforward raves than clever put-downs. And if we seem to tend too often toward the latter sometimes, it's only out of honest disappointment, sheer frustration--real dismay that so many of the restaurants we encounter turn out to be run by bunglers, incompetents, and/or pretentious popinjays with all the food sense of a rock.

I was having thoughts along these lines the other day as I sat, being handsomely (and not at all pretentiously) taken care of at the extremely pleasant restaurant called the Palm Court. Now, the Palm Court--which, like the nearby Trident Room, is a breakfast-and-lunch establishment in a new West L.A. office building--is hardly a great restaurant. It isn't worth much of a detour. Its specialties aren't likely to be featured in Bon Appetit. But it is a nice place to sit down in, airy and comfortable, restful even, light and cool, with deft decorative touches and a tranquil view out tall windows onto a beige marble courtyard graced with a water wall, a reflecting pool, and several clumps not of palms but of 40-foot-high bird-of-paradise trees. There are decorative touches to the service, too--among them fresh chunks of grana grated over pasta dishes to the customer's specifications, and wines-by-the-glass (of which there are quite a few) poured at the table with a minor flourish. The food? Adequate at worst, in a mixed-bag California-contemporary style (Russell Armstrong of Trees in Corona del Mar is consulting chef)--and sometimes quite good.

My saddest luck thus far has been with the Palm Court's "California Mixed Grill"--a combination plate of bland veal sausage, dried-out salmon and chicken-breast filet, tired little potatoes and Styrofoam tomato heaped with powdery bread crumbs. Should our state's name be attached to such a dish? A middling Caesar salad with the dressing unevenly distributed, a special one day of dull tortellini with store-bought Italian sausage, and an overly busy presentation of good little asparagus with superfluous chopped lettuce and mixed pepper salad have left me less than pleased.

On the other hand, "Maryland" crab cakes (are there any other kind on local menus these days, now that things "Louisiana" are starting to lose their spice?) were quite delicious one afternoon--if a bit too floury; an appetizer special of bow-tie pasta, chicken, raisins and pine nuts in a curry-flavored dressing was refreshing and engaging in a tea-room sort of way; a small plate of thin herb-and-ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a pesto sauce (tasting more of pepper than of basil, but still not bad) was a perfect appetizer. There is a decent hamburger with very good cole slaw (and with fries that vary in quality from one day to the next); an open-faced "crabmeat melt" sort of sandwich (with plenty of dill) as a sometime special that is as good as this dish gets; a light, elegant, finely cut Chinese chicken salad; a moist, boneless chicken breast in an "avocado salsa" that turns out to be a kind of tasty, chunky guacamole. Desserts are mostly homemade and mostly dangerously superb--especially a hot, sticky brownie, a tart lemon tart and a homey warm apple crisp. The small all-California wine list is fairly priced and includes names like Quail Ridge, Far Niente, Edna Valley, Acacia and Ravenswood.

The Palm Court plans to open for dinner this summer, and perhaps the kitchen will go into higher gear at that time. For now, though, it's good enough; we can't expect a truly pleasant feeling from a restaurant and haute cuisine, too, can we? And, speaking as one of those oft-disappointed reviewers I was talking about earlier, I can tell you that the former of the two is harder to find--and at least occasionally more desirable.

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