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CHARLES PERRY ON RESTAURANTS

Dainty French Eatery Spices Up Haute Cuisine

September 18, 1987|CHARLES PERRY

Luigi Cavalli has been around. Boy, has he been around. He's been president of the International Council of Gastronomy (Paris), an honorary member of the Mexican Association of Hotels and Restaurants and a Knight of the Confraternity of the Order of the Truffle. He founded the Moroccan chapter--yes, the one in Morocco--of a chefs' organization.

You may discover this by reading the plaques that line the walls of L'Endroit, the restaurant where he has wound up. And where would this place be? Not the grand side of Harbor and Chapman, not hobnobbing with the imposing Alicante Princess Hotel (now a Hyatt Regency), but across Harbor sharing a mini-mall with a Launderland and a one-hour photo service.

Not where you expect a dainty little French restaurant with magenta walls and entrees starting at $16.50. We're pretty fancy for a mini-mall here. The name of the place, L'Endroit (oh, go ahead and try it: lahn-DRWAH), is engraved on the place covers and all the flatware.

Clearly Cavalli has been in the chef game all his life, and that may be how he is able to put together a surprisingly large menu--16 appetizers, 30 entrees--in such a tiny place. This is not accomplished the easy way, either. Several items involve accompaniments that have to be specially made for them, like the string-thin straw potatoes that come with the shrimp appetizer.

Cavalli specializes in rather old-fashioned haute cuisine. One of the things that eventually made this style unfashionable had nothing to do with the cuisine itself but with the way chefs were taking shortcuts, mechanically counting on cream sauce and meat reductions rather than the highest quality ingredients. Cavalli, to his credit, is concerned with ingredients.

Take the mushroom and almond salad, where a nouvelle cuisine chef would make a point of using exotic mushrooms. These are the familiar supermarket variety, but they are some of the freshest mushrooms I've had in a restaurant, so fresh they squeak against your teeth. Some relatively rare ingredients are found too, like jambon de Bayonne (raw ham from the Basque country of France, unsmoked and rather like tender prosciutto), and a sort of corned-beef ham from Switzerland: mahogany red and sliced paper-thin, like extremely elegant beef jerky.

On the whole, things are solid, tender, meaty and mild. Poached salmon comes with a delicate fume blanc cream, sweetbreads in a wine sauce (the menu says something about a wine from Bordeaux, but it tasted like Madeira to me). The haute cuisine fascination with veal gives us half a dozen veal dishes here, including veal loin with the by-now-standard green peppercorn cream sauce and a medallion topped with slices of goose liver (whether from a goose or, as is more usual in our restaurants, a duck, it is nicely rich and buttery) in an understated sherry vinegar sauce.

I have a sneaking taste for this somewhat fussy tradition (two of the appetizers appear in delirious pastry dishes shaped like small seashells), but it does have its limits. Vegetables are one. Every entree comes with the same carrots, green beans and overdone cauliflower and broccoli, plus a very odd cushion of fried semolina, sweet and vanilla flavored.

But having made such a point of L'Endroit's traditionalism, I really must say that Cavalli is not in fact completely traditional. Bucking the French hostility to spices (because of his residence in Morocco?), he has an unusual and excellent chicken breast in a sauce of butter and meat juices strongly flavored with ground ginger. Another oddity, though not so successful in my book, is sliced breast of wild duck with Armagnac and walnut honey; that is, honey from bees who have been supping on walnut nectar. The honey I could barely detect, but I'm afraid I could detect all too much raw alcohol from the Armagnac.

The desserts are thoroughly old fashioned. Baba au rhum (maybe this pastry went out of fashion because people just got tired of its inevitably soggy appearance) in a light syrup flavored with Sambuca. Apple tart built in the traditional geological layers: layer of puff pastry, layer of pastry cream, layer of apples and finally a thick layer of apricot jam glaze. Chocolate velvet cake, which we used to call devil's food, I think.

The wine list deserves special mention. This is probably the most individualistic wine list I've seen in Orange County. There's scarcely a hackneyed wine on it; the pinot blanc is from Alsace, there is a red from the little-known region of Bergerac (it's like a young California Cabernet). One is impressed.

Prices, as I've remarked, are more serious than the mini-mall location would lead you to expect. Appetizers range from $6.50 to $15, entrees $16.50 to $25 and desserts $4.50 to $5 (there is a $12 minimum per person). At lunch entrees run $8.95 to $13.95.

L'ENDROIT

575 W. Chapman Ave., Anaheim

(714) 750-3319

Open for lunch Monday through Friday, for dinner Monday through Saturday. All major credit cards accepted.

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