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DAVID NELSON ON RESTAURANTS

Omni Hotel Dining Rooms Serve Inexpensive, Familiar Fare

December 24, 1987|DAVID NELSON

The one dish with a titillating title, the "new filet mignon," was also the simplest, and probably the best, of those sampled. The intriguing term "new," according to the waiter, simply meant that the meat was cut from a young, rather than mature, animal; the taste did not seem appreciably different, but the generously sized steak did have a pleasing texture. The accompanying sauce bearnaise, a staple of middle-of-the-road eateries, was appropriately middle-of-the-road, or in other words, tasty, but not nearly so creamy as the classic example of this lovely and much-abused sauce.

The barquette of scampi by rights should have been served in a small, narrow pastry shell (in French culinary parlance, a barquette is a small pastry boat). The large shrimp instead were arranged upright, shoulder-to-shoulder in a neat rank beneath a light sauce prepared from fresh tomatoes, herbs, garlic and sherry. The dish was acceptable, largely because the shrimp were of excellent quality, but the sauce lacked that touch of masterful seasoning that would have made the dish really good . The same comment applies to the poached salmon, which was decent, but which benefited barely at all from a lackluster sauce of capers and leeks in a very thin liquid.

Message From Chef

The entree list concludes with one of those questionable flights of hyperbole that suggests that the copywriter either indulged in fantasy, or, much worse, knew only too well the management's real intentions for the cuisine. The heading "Our Executive Chef Suggests" is followed by these lissome lines: "Each evening our Chef creates a special entree to compliment our regular menu items using select delicacies and fresh Herbs to stretch his culinary imagination. He prepares each dish with special care and pampering." The wary always should view such menu notes as red flags.

One evening, the chef stretched his culinary imagination so far as to whip up a dish of veal scallops topped with crab meat, white asparagus and sauce bearnaise (this last already available to him from the batch made for the filet mignons), which, had the waiter who recommended this dish only known it, was that classic and rather overworked dish called veal Oscar. Like the other entrees, it was acceptable, but nothing more, the "special care and pampering" apparently having been deemed dispensable. Another night's special was sea bass in a raspberry beurre blanc (a creamy butter sauce), and since raspberry sauces, one of the few lasting legacies of nouvelle cuisine, have become the refuge of the unimaginative, this dish was not sampled.

The desserts, made on premises, were served rather grandly from a trolley, a triumph in most cases of style over substance. Caramel custard was good, a chocolate torte acceptable, and a Black Forest cake rather spongy and amateurish. The one really first-rate homemade dessert was the ice cream, richly flavored and velvety textured, and available in flavors ranging from deep chocolate to strawberry, vanilla and coconut.

FESTIVAL

Omni San Diego Hotel, 1 Broadway Circle

239-2200

Dinner served Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

Credit cards accepted.

Dinner for two, including a moderate bottle of wine, tax and tip, about $60 to $100.

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