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DAVID NELSON ON RESTAURANTS

Standard 'Cowabunga' Era Fare

September 20, 1990|DAVID NELSON

The front door at Bunbury's opens into the mid-1960s. This Scripps Ranch restaurant, which has been in business for several years, remains a faithful, unchanging monument to the Southern California cuisine of that decade. The place in fact seems such a detailed replica of the standard SoCal restaurants of the "cowabunga" era that the absence of a surfboard rack outside the entrance almost seems odd.

Diners enter through a bar that features a wide-screen television tuned to a sports channel. The sports action does not, however, intrude on the cube of a dining room which has plank walls reaching to the distant, beamed wooden ceiling. Green plants hang hither and yon and the only other major decor statement is made by the salad bar.

The presence of a salad bar is something of a novelty these days, since the age when few restaurants lacked them seems well behind us. The right to indulge in this greenery fest is included in the price of all entrees, with Caesar salad, a tomato salad with bay shrimp and the soup du jour offered as alternatives.

Other than the lone bowl of lettuce, which on a recent visit looked rather tired and shopworn, the bar does offer a thoroughly respectable congregation of composed salads, raw and pickled vegetables, fruits (an excellent selection of fresh melon wedges, although the canned peaches seem out of place), garnishes and dressings.

The kitchen does not venture beyond the simplest cookery. When asked if the evening's soup, French onion, had been brewed on the premises, a server paused momentarily, glanced up at the ceiling and said, "Not really." (The service, by the way, was surprisingly good.) In the same streamlined approach to getting food on the plate, the cheesecake, chocolate mousse and blackout cake are the provenance of an outside supplier.

The menu opens with starters of Brie and fruit, shrimp cocktail, fried potato skins and sauteed mushrooms, but quickly comes to the point with a mention of prime rib, the great star in Bunbury's culinary firmament.

Available in a full portion or a less overwhelming half-cut, the prime rib is presented in the fashion prescribed by the tradition of several decades, which is to say with a creamy horseradish dressing and a cup of what has come to be known rather amusingly as "au jus," a concoction that properly designates pan juices but here, as at most local restaurants, can be described as resembling a strong bouillon.

The flavors are typical for this sort of presentation, and neither more nor less than might be expected; the meat itself is reasonably tender. The baked potato that accompanied it had a long-baked, creamy texture that was easy to appreciate.

Once past prime rib, the entree list continues with filet mignon, top sirloin, grilled chicken breast and several teriyakis (this is the old California menu, after all), and combinations of prime rib or steak with chicken, halibut or the inevitable shrimp "scampi," which also stands on its own as an entree. The chicken breast, available teriyaki-style, also is offered plain with a dish of "honey curry" sauce on the side, and while this sweet-spicy concoction seems little more than honey and curry powder stirred together, it does have a pleasant flavor that adds something to the basic chicken.

The seafood list includes a brochette of shrimp and fish, grilled mahi mahi, broiled halibut, sauteed snapper and scallops, Bunbury's version of the Italian-style seafood stew called cioppino , and an Australian lobster tail. A separate "cafe" menu offers hamburgers, a Reuben sandwich and chicken and Cobb salads.

Bunbury's serves very basic fare, although it is a cuisine that seems timeless and time-honored in this part of the country.

BUNBURY'S

9906 Mira Mesa Blvd., Scripps Ranch

Calls: 578-8666

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Cost: Entrees from $8.25 to $23. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $30 to $50. Credit cards accepted.

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