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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Finding a Taste of the Westside in Bellflower

June 03, 1988|CHARLES PERRY

Bellflower Boulevard. I'm actually turning off on Bellflower Boulevard. Old Paint Job seems to give me a questioning glance, or maybe that's just a reflection off the tachometer. He can practically find his own way around the Westside, but I sense he's lost out here on the frontier.

I know, old pal. We've been to many a restaurant together, but none anywhere near Bellflower. I had to come, though. I had to check those legends about a Lost Westside Restaurant for myself.

OK. Right next to a huge place called Ming's, here's the sign reading Magdalena's Cafe and Pastries. Nothing fancy inside. A little whitewashed lattice work, plain walls with some posters. Judging from all the tables that look like birthday and anniversary parties, the place has carved out a position as the local special-occasion restaurant.

But the largish menu, which changes daily (at least some of the details change), looks totally Westside, full of bufala mozzarella and wild mushrooms and baby vegetables. Here's a light and pretty salad of "exotic baby lettuces" with the sure-fire garnish of goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. . . . Baby squash blossoms stuffed with a mousse of scallops and shrimp in whole-seed mustard sauce. . . . A timbale of eggplant sliced paper-thin and filled with mozzarella.

There's a delightfully sweet grilled rabbit, marinated with fresh thyme and brushed with olive oil. A Black Angus filet accompanied by quail stuffed with veal mousse and pistachios. Venison and antelope medallions--from domestic animals, so the flavor is scarcely gamy, like slightly exotic beef--in port and green peppercorn sauce and a slightly silly blueberry sauce, respectively.

A heavily laden dessert cart: lots of rich cakes with cream and fruit fillings, a rather syrupy chocolate pecan pie, a faultless fresh chocolate eclair with creme anglaise. You can also order a souffle ahead for dessert, or even better (the souffle is on the plain side), a fresh fruit tart with terrific fresh caramel sauce. And at the end of the meal, you automatically get a plate of French quasi-cookies ( tuiles, palmiers, sugary meringues) and bitter chocolate truffles.

This is quite a good restaurant. How can I tell I'm not actually on the Westside? Well, it's out of date on some fads: Plates are garnished with half a dozen vegetables--say, baby zucchini, baby crookneck squash, long beans, butter beans, potato gratin, carrot puree and a white thing that the waitress will guess is heart of palm but turns out to be a half-cylinder of turnip.

And the arrangement on the plate isn't quite as gorgeous as you could find in some hot Westside places. The spinach fettuccine with pine nuts, dried tomatoes and garlic cream sauce is delicious and does not pussyfoot in the use of garlic (curious, because garlic is precisely what the ragout of wild mushrooms could use), but it looks a little sloppy. And maybe once in a while there's a flaw: The delicious sweetbreads have a sort of soggy texture.

But really, I'm impressed. So, you're still here, Paint Job. Yes, the rumors were right. That was it. That was the Lost Westside Restaurant.

Magdalena's Cafe and Pastries, 17818 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower, (213) 925-6551. Open for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Wine only. Street parking. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $51 to $80.

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