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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Daily Grilling in Encino : The menu is made in American foodie heaven. It's worth the wait for a table.


You can lay any doubts about the great West Side restaurant migration permanently to rest. Encino's Daily Grill is the latest restaurant to come bouncing over the hill, and the welcome has been nothing short of tumultuous.

The concept for this moderately priced American grill sprang up a few years ago. An uppity Beverly Hills restaurant named The Grill was doing a land-office business serving classic American fare, when it suddenly dawned on the owners that the menu had mass-market potential.

How right they were. This branch, the fourth, may be the handsomest one in the chain. (Other Daily Grills are located in Brentwood, on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles and in Newport Beach's posh Fashion Island shopping center.) It sits haughtily on the top level of a shiny new Ventura Boulevard retail center called Encino Place, the crown jewel of a property already boasting a Ben & Jerry's and a California Pizza Kitchen.

The emperor has fancy clothes, too. You enter through a retro-style revolving door, into a sweeping room featuring a polished wooden counter and massive open kitchen. The appointments are set off by a black and white checked floor against a backdrop of the boulevard below, viewed through panoramic windows. It's some show.

Tables are crowded into the center of this space, and sitting at one may strike you as claustrophobic. Luckier customers get to sit at old-fashioned booths, themselves a tight fit, not exactly far from the madding crowd but comfortably separated from it. I guess it just depends on how early you get there. Daily Grill does not take reservations, and the restaurant is often full at peak meal hours. (At 7:30 in the evening, I have found a wait of as long as half an hour for a table, and that was on a Monday.)

Daily Grill's paper menu goes a long way toward explaining this phenomenon. It's green ink printed on a white background (a color scheme similar, I should point out, to the one used by the U.S. Mint), and reads like a short list of great American dishes.

Look at just a few of these choices. Shrimp cocktail. Caesar salad. Cold meatloaf sandwich. B.L.T. Calves liver with bacon and onions. Sauteed sand dabs. Hot fudge sundae. This is a menu made in American foodie heaven, and the kitchen brings it off, generally, with consummate skill.

Before you even get to the menu though, cheerful, hustling servers are already buttering you up with a basket of delicious, crusty sourdough bread, bread that is baked especially for this chain by Pioneer Boulangerie of Santa Monica. Eat this bread reservedly. The portions are huge.

The shrimp cocktail is a beauty--five giant, heavily veined prawns sitting pretty on an ice-filled metal dish. The shrimp are as fresh as can be, and go perfectly with a tangy, horseradish-rich red cocktail sauce. The Daily Grill's Caesar is on the creamy side, a salad where the dressing clings to the greens like Saran Wrap. They've downplayed the anchovy flavor somewhat, but the snap of these greens is enhanced by a healthy dose of chopped garlic. The garlic seems to be even more concentrated in the salad's outsized croutons.

The B.L.T. is definitely the best one around. There must be half a pound of thick-sliced bacon on this sandwich, which is also one more showcase for the good house sourdough. The kitchen serves it piled high with fresh iceberg lettuce, never-mealy slices of ripe tomato and lots of eggy mayo. If B.L.T.s aren't your thing, the juicy, meaty burgers, runny grilled cheeses and beef dips are sandwich superstars in their own right.

There's very little wrong with any of the hot items, either. Sand dabs are delicate creatures, perhaps the lightest of all Pacific fish, and hardly suited to this kind of big volume operation. So you almost nod in satisfaction when yours are a bit overcooked, in spite of their wonderful freshness and the unctuous, lemony beurre blanc drizzled on top.

Perhaps it's nit-picking to say so, but the kitchen is too generous with the calves liver. It's a thick slice, so thick that the tenderness of the liver is lost. A delicious bacon and sauteed onion topping makes up for this miscalculation with style.

And so it goes. With dishes such as broiled half garlic chicken, meatloaf with real mashed potatoes, lamb steak, pork chops, good pastas and a variety of good steamed vegetables, the Daily Grill has a recipe for success that rates to last for a long time.

Throw in more American graffiti, desserts such as one of the creamiest rice puddings around (topped with a gentle sprinkling of cinnamon), a rich, fudgy double chocolate layer cake and that nonpareil hot fudge sundae, oozing a milky fudge sauce and gobs of hand-whipped cream and voila. Driving to the West Side for dinner just got that much longer.


Location: Daily Grill, 16101 Ventura Boulevard, Encino.

Suggested Dishes: Caesar salad, $8.75; B.L.T., $6.75; broiled half garlic chicken, $11.50; sauteed sand dabs, $11.50; rice pudding, $2.75.

Hours: Lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday, 9 a.m.- midnight Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday; Sunday brunch. Beer and wine only. Validated parking in Encino Place.

Price: Dinner for two, $25-$45. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.

Call: (818) 986-4111.

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