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RESTAURANT REVIEWS : Some Reflections on the New and Improved Reflections

January 22, 1988|CHARLES PERRY

Once there was a restaurant in Glendale called Reflections, and, true to its name, it gleamed. Every surface was covered with bent and shaped blond wood polished to a high gloss. It was grand and impressive, and altogether a pretty uncomfortable place to eat, because the whole room felt like a hard, slick wooden bench. I always thought I was about to slide off and crash through the windows onto the Ventura Freeway. A few years ago Reflections wandered uphill to a new building in La Canada, a far less shiny place without nearly so much of a view, but a pleasanter one. This Reflections is bright and airy with big windows (no freeway to look at, just Foothill Boulevard), lots of plants, a long salad bar and behind a brass rail on the back wall a cozy rotisserie with a battery of chickens always going on it--a welcome sight on a cold day.

The salad bar was the center of action at the old Reflections, and the same goes here. It claims to offer 70 items, but the most remarkable thing about it is that when you get to the end of the line, you select your greens and dressing and somebody tosses them for you; for once, a salad bar where you get a tossed salad. Like the old Reflections, the new one goes in for a lot of grilling. There's that rotisserie chicken, of course, a perfectly decent roast chicken with a bit of rosemary and garlic on it. The fish of the day and a couple of steaks and chops also get grilled.

The menu tries to walk a line between plain old-fashioned American food and exotic experiments. The grilled pork chops come with a not-quite-memorable "pear, apple, and pine nut chutney."

At lunch you can get a somewhat quaint but definitely enjoyable "BLT" made with pancetta instead of bacon, romaine instead of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and oh yeah--pesto instead of mayonnaise. The very quaintest thing I've had here was grilled ahi-ahi with a pear and mint beurre blanc. Fortunately the pears and the mint were sparingly used and the result was not positively weird, but this is not one of those major inspirations that change the world. In a safer mode, among pastas there is a nice, warming "Southwestern pasta" of fusilli in a cream sauce made with roasted ancho peppers, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic and of course roasted chicken.

The salad bar maybe the way to start the meal, though there are crab cakes (perhaps not as light as they might be but good and meaty) that come with sherry-cayenne mayonnaise, and oysters with a nice hot green pepper sauce, as well as a somewhat limp salsa cruda. The guacamole is made at your table in the Mexican volcanic stone mortar called a molcajete. It tends to be a little in need of salt and probably lemon and peppers as well, but it's good for conversation--for instance, how do they wash that deeply pitted stone molcajete?

The least successful thing is the tortilla soup which they boast of for some reason. Imagine a soup made with sliced avocado, chunks of white cheese, tomatoes, peppers, roasted chicken, cilantro and tasty strips of toasted corn tortilla, but made with the thinnest chicken broth in the world. You get little pots of onions, bacon, more tomatoes and some quartered limes to doctor it with, but it still tastes like high-class dishwater.

Decidedly the best part of the meal is dessert. There are some obvious items like a creme brulee (a little on the sweet side), a rich "fatal chocolate cake" in the Duncan Hines mode and homemade ice cream with some far from obvious flavors, like cinnamon. The best things, though, are more ambitious: papaya and berry tart in a remarkably zippy raspberry sauce, an "apple souse cake" which is more or less a sponge tort in apple-flavored caramel sauce, and a "black bottom cake" that included a layer of chocolate pudding topped by a layer of something like vanilla Bavarian cream, all surrounded by a puddle of intense bitter chocolate syrup.

Reflections, 734 Foothill Blvd., La Canada Flintridge, (818) 790-5355. Open for Lunch Monday through Friday, for dinner daily. Full bar. Parking lot. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, exclusive of beverages, $21.50 to $54.80.

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