The menu may be Western, but Greco, a new restaurant-bar in Little Tokyo, is thoroughly Japanese. This smartly designed space functions primarily as a nightclub with kimono-clad hostesses. Businessmen entertain clients there, and Japanese expatriates drop in to relax from the strain of speaking English and to experience the ambience of home. Some nights there is jazz piano; other nights, a pianist-singer encourages the customers to perform.
For the first few weeks after opening in March, Greco maintained an ambitious schedule of lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails, dinner and hostess club. Now that has been scaled back to lunch, which attracts a mix of Occidentals and Japanese, and the nightclub, patronized almost exclusively by Japanese.
Thank heavens lunch continues because Greco has interesting food at prices that are very reasonable considering the luxurious appointments. The food is served on handsome plates of Sasaki Metropolis Black china, accompanied by Sasaki cutlery in a simple pattern of silver with gold trim. There are heavy crystal glasses for drinks and expensive Sasaki ashtrays that made me worry about souvenir hunters.
A Romantic Wine
Blush wine looked its romantic best cradled in the wings of a bird molded into the stem of the wine glass. And dessert was charmingly presented in a black Japanese dish with folds at the sides like origami. The domed lid concealed a little chocolate box of vanilla ice cream decorated with sliced strawberries and kiwi and a stream of raspberry sauce.
The room is stylish too. Arches and pillars give a strong look that is softened by massive bouquets of silk flowers placed in front of large mirrors. Pale banquettes and teal-upholstered chairs flank bare slate tables that make a stark background for the food.
Greco is a yoshoku restaurant, meaning one that serves Western food prepared to Japanese taste. In Japan, such restaurants are typically located next to children's recreation areas in department stores because the food is palatable to youngsters.
At Greco the dishes are not childlike but as sophisticated as a plate of grilled scallops and oyster mushrooms or a delicate corn soup with a thin tracing of cream. I loved the hamburger, which veers sharply from the American concept. No hamburger bun, no thick red catsup oozing over the edges, no onions, no French fries. The meat is brushed lightly with spicy sauce and tucked between thick slices of toasted white bread along with lettuce and delicately flavored salad dressing.
"Nouvelle with taste" is the way one friend described a pork loin steak covered with a cream sauce blended with grainy brown mustard. One day, everyone seemed to order the same thing: a plate of fried shrimp, scallops and fish. And no wonder. The breading was light and crisp and the seafood fresh and tender.
Entrees are accompanied by steamed rice in deference to Asian tastes or soft buttery rolls. The one dish that seems markedly Japanese is rice mixed with spicy cod roe, a condiment stocked in Little Tokyo markets.
Dishes I liked the least were seafood coquille--white and tasteless--and Caesar salad made with iceberg lettuce and crumbled crackers instead of croutons. Before Greco discontinued dinner, I had a wonderful meal that started with triangles of silky rich pate followed by the corn soup, two perfectly cooked lamb chops, rolls and coffee. The price was $15.
At lunch, fried seafood is $5.95 and pork loin steak $7.95, which includes rice or bread and coffee. The a la carte grilled scallop plate is $6.95 and the hamburger $5.95.
At night during club hours, Greco serves appetizers, either light or substantial according to the needs of the customers. In case you're curious about prices at a hostess club, Greco charges $8 to engage a hostess unless a specific girl is requested. That costs $13. Customers pay $50 each to drink at will from a bottle of one of the house brands (Chivas Regal, Crown Royal).
Partners in this enterprise are Jerry Greco, who provided the name, and Shunsuke Kohyama, who once had a restaurant in Japan. Kohyama is the one you'll see keeping an eye on things during lunchtime. In charge of the kitchen is Hiro Iguchi, who formerly cooked at the Tokyo Hilton.
Greco, 366 E. 2nd St ., Los Angeles (in Brunswig Square, Little Tokyo); phone (213) 626-5270. Lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; hostess club from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Visa, MasterC a rd and American Express cards accepted. Park on street or in neighborhood lots.