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ONE WOMAN'S STRUGGLE : Starting From Scratch at Palette

November 05, 1989|RUTH REICHL

After she lost Tumbleweed, Elka Gilmore was hired to be the executive chef at Checkers, the fancy new downtown hotel.

"Bill Wilkinson (the president of the corporation) and I are like opposite ends of the universe," Gilmore now says. "I loved the part of the job that was all structure and organization, but every time I'd cook he'd hate it. The more I'd try, the more he'd hate it. Finally he said to me, 'What do you think of when I say the words chop house?' And I said, 'I think it's the kind of place I don't want to work.' "

"I realized," she says, "that I didn't want to cook what I didn't want to cook. That I didn't want to have to be nice to people I didn't like. That's how I found this opportunity."

"This opportunity" is Palette, one of those drop-dead, very decorated restaurants that's been photographed for many magazines but never quite managed to make it as an eating place. A new corporation has taken it over and given Gilmore stock in the company and asked her to come in and cook.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 19, 1989 Home Edition Calendar Page 111 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Palette--In a Nov. 5 article, chef Elka Gilmore was quoted as saying that the dance permit of the restaurant Palette had been revoked. The West Hollywood Planning Commission did vote to revoke the establishment's dance, liquor and entertainment licenses. The decision has been appealed. Until a ruling is made on the appeal, the restaurant continues to operate with full liquor service, dancing and live entertainment.

"I decided to do this," she says, "because I could be in the kitchen six nights a week and just cook."

She hasn't exactly been cooking for a crowd. This is a shame. The chicken, roasted with garlic and lemon and served with a creamy corn timbale, is a fine plate of food for $10.50. Roast leg of lamb is packed with herbs and served with homemade potato chips ($13.25). Little quail are dusted with black pepper and served on a bowl of mushroom-laden risotto ($15.25).

The appetizers struck me as rather hit and miss. My favorites were the pillow of ricotta cheese wrapped up in strips of grilled eggplant and the slice of marinated tuna topped with fresh white peppercorns and radish sprouts. The Caesar salad, on the other hand, is served on a cracker crust and seems like a sort of pathetic pizza.

Dinner at Palette begins with a wonderful basket of assorted breads and ends with quite lavish desserts. There is a nice and fairly priced wine list. This is, unfortunately, balanced by what might be the world's worst cup of cappuccino at an outrageous $4 a cup.

At the moment, Palette seems to be in the process of finding itself. "It was a club," says Gilmore, "but the dance permit got revoked. Now it's turning into a cabaret with entertainment that is more conducive to eating." Some nights are so quiet there is hardly anybody in the place.

So much the better. The room is lovely, the food is reasonable--and haven't you been complaining that all the new restaurants are too loud?

Palette, 8290 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. (213) 654-8094.

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