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DAVID NELSON / ON RESTAURANTS

First-Rate Lunching After Tour of the Links

March 12, 1992|DAVID NELSON | David Nelson regularly reviews restaurants for The Times in San Diego. His column also appears in Calendar on Fridays.

It may be that a hot dog bun fits perfectly into the groove of a hand that has just wielded assorted custom clubs the length of an especially well-manicured golf course.

And then again, the management of the Aviara Golf Club may simply have chosen to squarely face the facts of American eating habits when it listed a quarter-pound hot dog (all beef, grilled to order and custom-garnished, to be sure) on a menu that also offers a sublime six onion soup and a dramatically mounded arrangement of angel hair pasta, fresh basil leaves and snippets of sun-dried tomato.

The club's dining room, called The Argyle, is under the management of Four Seasons Hotels, a four-star chain that is building a hilltop resort above this luxury clubhouse near the edge of Batiquitos Lagoon.

The Four Seasons' predilection for luxury shows in virtually every detail except, most notably, the menu, which is realistic for the times rather than haute . At present, service is restricted to breakfast and lunch, with dinner offered to large private parties only.

The place is in any case delightful, and presents a rare opportunity for the public to lunch in premises as grand (actually grander, in most cases) as those offered by any of the county's elegant private clubs.

The style pays no attention to the West Coast--there is enough of that just outside the windows--and instead takes its cue from the East and from England. Marble-topped tables are equipped with deep arm chairs, dark wood and handsome prints abound, and the carpets and other furnishings suggest Park Avenue or Pall Mall rather than Southern California.

All this might make a menu headed by caviar or, at the least, vichyssoise, seem in order, but the list actually takes a much simpler approach that takes full account of contemporary eating habits.

The fare is, in fact, fairly standard, with the important difference of first-rate ingredients and preparation. For example, a club sandwich may be a club sandwich, but it is nicer the Argyle way, with a filling of freshly roasted turkey breast, good Swiss cheese and other elements arranged in layers with slices of moist, seven-grain bread. The prices, for the quality, seem reasonable.

With some inevitability, the main menu commences with Caesar salad, followed in the starter category by a plate of mixed greens and the six onion soup, a delicious, creamed puree of various members of the onion family (shallots and leeks among them), garnished with a tangle of crisp onion rings whose breading includes hints of nutmeg and cayenne. This is as tasty and satisfying as it is original.

Many of the items cater to appetites sharpened by a tour of the links, especially the stacked "deli" sandwich of five meats and two cheeses on a French roll, and the chicken breast baked under an arrangement of plum tomatoes, avocado and mozzarella.

The entree-sized salads can be clever. The Baja chicken salad--a charred, sliced breast arranged in a fan alongside assorted luxury greens--is garnished with a small, well-made and reasonably hot chile relleno . Other choices in this category include the classic Cobb--romaine garnished with chopped roast chicken, avocado, bacon, tomato and boiled eggs--and the Nicoise, which fleshes out the basic tuna-tomato-onion mixture with green beans and red potatoes.

The fish of the day is served in various states of complication, but nothing too fancy. Sea bass recently was offered with a light beurre blanc .

The angel hair pasta, garnished simply with basil, sun dried tomatoes and a bit of oil and Parmesan, has the virtue of lightness and is well made if not something you're likely to swoon over. The rigatoni Bolognese, while unsampled, sounds heartier, given the Italian sausage crumbled into the marinara sauce.

The real star of the Argyle's attractions, however, would have to be the supplementary menu of hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled chicken breast sandwiches.

As prosaic as these may sound, they are extremely well done, quite reasonably priced and made distinctive by the long list of garnishes, applied in the kitchen, from among which guests may choose.

At $5.75, which includes any two garnishes (options for this and the other sandwiches are several kinds of cheese, chorizo sausage, bacon, ham, chili, salsa, teriyaki sauce, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and more), the hamburger is a winner, a well-charred patty wrapped in a fresh, yeasty bun. The grilled chicken sandwich is notable for its tender, juicy finish (there is no question that it has been cooked to order) and is happy with the light teriyaki sauce.

Plates also include french fried potatoes, making any of these choices a simple, satisfying, all-American lunch.

The Argyle

Aviara Golf Club, 7447 Batiquitos Road, Carlsbad

Calls: 929-0077

Hours: Breakfast and lunch daily

Cost: Sandwiches and entrees $4.40 to $9.35; lunch for two, including a glass of wine each, tax and tip, about $20 to $40.

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