YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

RESTAURANT REVIEW LAKE VIEW CAFE : Topic of Confusion : The eatery, housed where Sam's Cafe used to be, has a lovely location and good service--but the food could be improved.


I'd started out--a bit snobbishly, I admit--looking for glamour. After all, didn't the 1992 Zagat Restaurant Survey tell its readers that New York was coming to Westlake Village?

And, according to Zagat, wasn't East Coast glamour figure Mariel (Sam) Hemingway opening the first California branch of her Sam's Cafe "way out in the boonies, where people ride horses and there are almost no restaurants at all?" Who could resist a come-on like that?

I guess lots of us could because by the time I got to the corner of Lakeview Canyon and Agoura roads, there no longer was a Sam's there. It seems it lasted about eight months. Could high-priced entrees, additional prices for conventional side dishes, small portions and, just possibly, some of that famed New York attitude, have had anything to do with such short tenure?

We will never know. But we did find out that the beautiful spot that once housed Sam's is now home to another restaurant. The relaxing, tree-covered location on the edge of a duck-filled lake, complete with terrace seating and views across tennis courts and golf course--for years the site of Chauncey's restaurant before Sam's bombed there--now boasts the Lake View Cafe.

I was a little confused when I walked in. Perhaps I was expecting at least some remnants of the Sam's East Coast chic. I couldn't figure out at first if I was in a high-end coffee shop or a wanna-be bistro. There's a full bar, the restaurant is light and airy, and service is young and attentive.

The menu didn't do much to remove my confusion. It is crammed full of sandwiches, ranging from "Gourmet Melts" ($5.75 to $6.95) to "Favorite Dips" ($5.75 to $6.95). But then there's a wiener schnitzel dinner ($9.75) and coconut fried shrimp ($10.95).

A couple of meals at the Lake View finally persuaded me that it really is sort of a high-end coffee shop. As the Critical Companion noted: "This is a Bob's Big Boy with an extended menu." The beef stew ($9.25), she said, is "just like Mom used to make." I pointed out that it tasted as though it had come from a Dinty Moore can. "Exactly," replied the CC, "just like Mom used to make."

The stew is heavy on vegetables and light on meat. Its saving grace is that it is served inside a small, hollowed-out loaf of sourdough bread, into which the stew is poured, then covered with the crown of the loaf. The bread helps.

Salads are not quite as good as those at Bob's. I'm still trying to fathom the flavorless consistency of the lettuce. And the mealy and what seemed to be frozen french fries.

The roast chicken ($7.95), though, can be a juicy dish, served with creamed corn, a barely passible garlic bread, but with a nice side dish of mashed potatoes.

The baby back ribs ($11.95) may be lean, as they're billed, but tender they are not. And "our original bar-b-que sauce" would be better replaced with something out of a bottle.

I couldn't resist ordering the hot apple dumpling one day for dessert. The dumpling dish is a good-sized apple, baked and wrapped in a flaky crust, toped with hot cinnamon sauce and then yogurt. The sauce is a little too sweet, but the yogurt saved it. It was good enough for me to try the apple pie the next time--which made me realize that the apple dumpling was the way to go.

One interesting touch to the breakfast menu: Any item more than $5 includes champagne, a mimosa cocktail or fruit juice, which isn't a big enough draw to get me back there to try breakfast.

Either Beverly Holdgrafer or Porsche Quartermaine, who are operators of the Lake View, are almost always in attendance. That's a good sign. They're asking questions and apparently trying to improve the food. They have a lovely location, service is fine--and business seems to be good. I do like to see a full bar at a spot like this, and it's a plus that Heinekens and Samuel Adams are the brews on tap.


Lake View Cafe, 32037 Agoura Road, Westlake Village, (818) 889-9105. Open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Major credit cards accepted; no reservations. Full bar. Breakfast for two, food only, $10 to $19. Lunch or dinner for two, $14 to $40.

Los Angeles Times Articles