Once again, the hip French restaurant didn't make it to the suburbs last year. Over on the Westside, haute cuisine and its various incarnations have been out for what seems like ages, displaced by lighter new-wave cooking. Olive oil and rosemary are still the darlings in those kitchens; cream and parsley may as well have been banished to Elba.
But just cross Mulholland, and it's as if Michel Guerard and Alice Waters had never existed. Suddenly rich ingredients are everywhere in French restaurants, and the farther north you go from Ventura Boulevard, the larger the dosage. Le Triumph, in not-so-distant Mission Hills, is just such a restaurant, and one has to assume that owner Claude Girault (a woman) and maitre d' Claude Levayer (a man) like it that way.
Le Triumph happens to be a pretty reliable restaurant, performing faithful service to its genre. And this pink palace is a good atmosphere in which to eat this kind of food.
Booths are separated by pink curtains. Tables are covered in pink floral cloths (protected from all that cream by glass tops). Chairs are high-backed, mock-Louis XIV, a lighter shade of pink. And even the walls are pink, a series of little archways in counterpoint to the shroudlike white curtain that covers the large window on the opposite side of the room.
The menu is filled with old chestnuts that you can almost name without looking. The appetizers are snails, scampi, mushrooms in a puff pastry, duck pate, artichoke and smoked salmon. The good news is that most are done rather well.
Occasionally the chef decides to get a little creative (in dishes with names like duck blueberry and chicken raspberry). The maitre d' will bring a blackboard of such specials around to your table. That is your signal to visit the powder room.
One evening my friend and I started with the feuillete de champignons and got a big surprise for our daring. The dish is just a pastry hat, really, with some creamed mushrooms underneath, and looks rather ordinary. But the "mushrooms" are not mere mushrooms but chanterelles. Though the dish is impossibly rich, you don't want to miss it.
Mostly though, things are about as you might expect. The house pate de canard is a tasty enough duck pate, but food-processor smooth, lacking the grainy texture that brings a dish like this to life. Ditto a vegetable soup that was the soupe du jour one weekday evening. The tastes of celery and carrot dominated the hearty, satisfying soup but long pureeing in a Cuisinart robbed it of what should have been its soul.
The fish soup, a veritable feast for less than $5, suffers no such fate. It boasts the same basic stock as the bouillabaisse, which this restaurant will prepare anytime on special order, but it's a much better bargain. (The bouillabaisse here is an Americanized version full of clams, mussels and shrimp at almost four times the price.)
It's saffron-rich and tastes of the sea, with good croutons, grated cheese (Gruyere, I think) and an excellent red pepper rouille. So you get most of the fun of eating a real bouillabaisse, and most of the authentic flavor too.
This kitchen does a good job with fish in general. My friend had a thin slice of swordfish New Orleans in a creamy suspension with a good deal too much pepper. He could have had halibut in a classic champagne sauce, or salmon steamed in an uncharacteristically light ginger sauce. "When in Rome," he said.
As to the other entrees, well, there aren't too many revelations. I did try the ill-fated duck blueberry one night, but I promise it was only in the interests of professionalism. The duck tasted deep-fried, and the sweet, sticky blueberry sauce would have been better on a Belgian waffle.
One entree I do like here is lamb, either rack of lamb Provencale from the menu or the more tender saddle from the specials board, served in tender slices. Filet mignon is big here too, a la Bordelaise or Mathurini (with red wine, pepper and grapes). The night I dined with my friend, I decided on a blackened New York steak, not knowing that it came blanketed in the same thick sauce that graced my friend's swordfish.
You know what, I wasn't very surprised when it arrived, surrounded by a square of scalloped potatoes and some pureed squash. Now, if it had been served Westside-fashion with white beans and some roasted fennel . . . well, maybe next year.
Recommended dishes: feuillete de champignons, $6.95, fish soup, $4.95, steamed salmon, $14.95, rack of lamb Provencale, $17.95.
Le Triumph, 15535 Devonshire St., Mission Hills; (818) 891-0406. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Full bar. Parking lot. Dinner for two, food only, $35-$55.