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Let's Eat Out

Down Home Goes Upscale at Cyril's

December 10, 1987|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

The breakfast was wonderful. It started with a flute of golden Champagne, the tiny bubbles vigorously pummeling their way to the top. Next came slices of ham, lightly fried and brushed with Alaga syrup from Alabama. A pat of butter melted into a deep yellow pool in the center of a big serving of grits. Then there were eggs, cooked to order, and the lightest imaginable biscuits brought hot and steaming from the oven.

This "morning" feast has turned night into day at Cyril's of Los Angeles. You can't have it until after 9 p.m. on weekdays. On Saturday, though, it slips into the brunch slot, starting at 11 a.m.

Cyril's is a new addition to La Brea Avenue's scattered and slowly evolving restaurant row. Located just south of Wilshire Boulevard, it is a flossy place, an antebellum Southern mansion and '30s movie set rolled into one large space and finished off with a jaunty, black-and-white Cotton Club mural. The walls are pale peach, the carpeting muted purple. Drapes hang in romantic swags. Pale blue tablecloths top lace that cascades to the floor. And imposing, old-fashioned sideboards hold coffee, fruit or desserts.

One end of the room is fitted out with comfortable chairs, like a lounge. This is the tea room, where tea, cocktails and desserts are served. At the other end, the bar sparkles with mirrors. A long staircase, the perfect foil for a dramatic entrance, swirls past it to office space upstairs.

It's all very grand and fits oddly with such down-home foods as canned stewed tomatoes, turnip greens and macaroni and cheese. What does fit here is the capacity to consume a lot of food. Cyril's "continental-Southern" dinners are enormous. Each comes with salad and two accompaniments chosen from a long and varying list that may include candied yams, mashed potatoes, rice, fried corn, coleslaw, cabbage, green beans and the others named above.

Corn bread or biscuits are also part of the feast. The corn bread is sweet, firm and gritty--something to get your teeth into, as they say. The biscuits are more like soft rolls. You eat these with butter and Alaga syrup, which tastes darkly of molasses and is not very sweet. Each table is equipped with a syrup bottle, just as coffee shops have catsup. Salt shakers may be absent because Cyril's advocates low-sodium cookery and natural seasonings. The menu shows a tiny heart beside dishes that meet American Heart Assn. guidelines. Margarine is available. And the bar brews non-alcoholic drinks as well as stronger stuff.

One of the heart-marked dishes is chicken and dumplings. The chicken in that dish is just as flavorful in its way as the heart-less Southern-fried chicken. I was disappointed with the dumplings, though, because they were not the puffy round things I expected but a mash of dough that settled into the bottom of the bowl.

To lessen guilt about eating the fried chicken, it is not deep-fried, but seasoned and cooked according to a generations-old family recipe. The family is that of Cyril Wood, who designed and manages this restaurant with his wife, Yvonne.

There is smothered chicken too, and roast turkey with corn-bread dressing that tastes strongly of sage. I didn't get to the pork chops, but the meat loaf was fine, and the cornmeal-sprinkled pan-fried catfish remained crisp, never collapsing into sogginess.

I can't fault any of the side dishes. They may not be pretentious, but they are good, and the macaroni and cheese is terrific. So is the honey-raspberry-walnut salad dressing. Rather than drenching the greens, Cyril's serves the dressing on the side, which is a nice touch.

Whipped cream for the peach cobbler also comes in its own bowl, but it is hard to practice moderation with that sort of temptation. The cobbler started poorly, improved on the next try and passed its final test with great approval for the peach portion, although the crust never became light and tender. Sweet-potato cheesecake was interesting, but I'd choose the hot sweet-potato pie any day.

Cyril's has been open only a few weeks but seems to be going beautifully. Wood, who did much of the construction himself, was previously involved in restaurants in Michigan and New Jersey and plans another in Los Angeles.

Cyril's of Los Angeles, 740 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles (213) 552-9745. Open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday, to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Kitchen closes at 10:30 p . m. Tuesday through Thursday, at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Desserts and cocktails served until closing. Reservations suggested, especially on weekends. Takes Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Park on street or in adjacent shopping center lot. Dinner entrees from $12.95 to $16.95. Breakfast is $10.95.

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