If we are to believe the writings of the late gastronome Roy Andries de Groot--and why shouldn't we? he was famous--nouvelle cuisine began as a return to grandmother's cooking: cuisine bourgeoise.
California cuisine, of course, arose out of nouvelle, that and the proximity of baby vegetables to blocked artists. I propose a truly Californian cuisine, based not on the translated shopping lists of old ladies in Avignon, but on the grilling of everything except salad by guys with Weber barbecues. Let's call it Cuisine du Dad.
Just as nouvelle cuisine has Gault-Millau and Gourmet, Cuisine du Dad has Sunset Magazine, which shows its master chefs cavorting in checked sport shirts on spiffy redwood decks.
Cuisine du Dad cookbooks abound in gourmet emporia as well as in sporting-goods stores and gardening centers, and no less an authority than Mexican-food maven Diana Kennedy employed Dad techniques when she prepared goat for an international culinary seminar. Come to think of it, even Wolfgang Puck seems to be working a variation on the genre when, baseball cap on head, he throws big slabs of protein on that big campfire grill at Spago.
So, if updated cuisine bourgeoise can stage a comeback--and it has--it stands to reason that Cuisine du Dad can also appear in its modified form. And, as you might reasonably expect the former to be showcased in a simulated French country inn, you should reasonably expect a temple of Cuisine du Dad to seem like nothing so much as a big Saturday-afternoon party thrown by friends of your parents, seem, in fact, something like the new Silver Grille.
To enter the open-air restaurant, you walk past the kind of low redwood gates you'd put up to keep your golden retriever out of the pool. The kitchen and a couple of booths are housed in a tiny converted ice-cream parlor attached to the side of the chic restaurant Lalo and Brothers in the upscale Plaza de Oro mall, but the action is outside, under blue canvas patio umbrellas and the bluer Encino sky.
One of the Grille's two friendly owners--who fusses as if he's known you since you were a baby, even if you've never seen him before--firmly shakes your hand and leads you to a picnic table. (You're secretly relieved he doesn't introduce you to the other guests.)
You start off with guacamole, which is earnestly good in a masculine sort of way--you know, kind of half-lumpy, as if someone didn't really want it chunky but got bored mashing the avocado, and then seasoned it with too much citrus and chopped onion, though the result is strictly on the bland side--and served with a big pile of store-bought blue-corn tortilla chips. A quesadilla seems like it was made from a recipe in one of those magazine-size patio-entertaining manuals: bursting with chicken and sauteed onions and molten jack cheese but tasting mostly like somebody's Mom's barbecue sauce.
Around you lounge mall bunnies and fashionably unshaven youths in bicycle shorts; architects scanning blueprints; Cadillac matrons and businessmen, out in the noonday sun. Hardly anybody has ordered the chicken salad.
You might expect a temple of Cuisine du Dad to serve wonderful burgers (the world's best, says one or both of your hosts) and it does, charred and crunchy-crusted from the grill, pink and moist within, on grilled sourdough bread.
And hot dogs: fat, violently grilled knackwurst on grilled onion rolls. Terrific, tart slaw comes alongside the sandwiches. The Grille has a tiny but very nice wine list. Delicious wines such as Z.D. Cabernet and Acacia Chardonnay are reasonably priced at $20 a bottle or less, and each wine is also sold by the glass. Have a glass of Pinot Noir with your cheeseburger.
There are fresh grilled fish--perfectly grilled sea bass one day, grilled trout the next--barely touched with the expected sauces from the lime-butter family and garnished with vegetables and tiny grilled potatoes. The Grille even grills the lemon slices! A crisp-skinned half-chicken can be had grilled with trace amounts of lemon juice and garlic or with another dose of somebody's Mom's barbecue sauce.
If you're lucky, the Grille won't have run out of its marvelous apple torte, which is greasy in the manner of Cha Cha Cha rather than elegant in the style of l'Orangerie, and served with a great dollop of dense whipped cream. Otherwise, you'll have to console yourself with gummy chocolate cake. A Dadly blessing, to be sure.
Silver Grille, 17329 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 784-4745. Open for lunch Monday-Saturday, for dinner nightly. Lot parking. Beer and wine only. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Lunch or dinner for two (food only) $12-$25.