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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Special Sophistication of Champagne

October 16, 1987|RUTH REICHL

"My wife painted the restaurant by herself," says chef E. Patrick Healy, adding that he was not much help because his back was bothering him. She is probably the one who hung the paintings they borrowed from a local gallery, and arranged the big, comfortable chairs around the table in the quietly carpeted room. But this is not the normal little chef-owned restaurant. Champagne, 10506 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 470-8446, which lacks the glitz and glamour of those places with billion-dollar backers, has its own kind of sophistication.

Although the dining room is attractive, most of the excitement here comes from the kitchen. Healy, who created the wonderful fare at Colette, is among our best young chefs. American by birth, he is French by both training and by inclination. His food is personal without being trendy.

Healy has divided his menu into five parts. He offers contemporary fare--such appetizers as squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and salads of greens topped with salmon. There is also classic fare (wonderful terrine of foie gras served with warm brioche toast, or a chewy, tasty steak with marrow), spa food for the calorie conscious and, best of all, rustic fare such as cassoulet. Prices for entrees run in the high teens: This is a restaurant for those with Champagne tastes, but the budget goes a bit beyond beer.

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