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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Silver Grille Tarnished : The Encino establishment has delicious food, but is sorely lacking in creature comforts.

August 14, 1992|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whenever I hear the word grill , a little red light goes on. Grills around L.A. have an attitude: Their prices are upmarket, their welcomes are bristly and their young, rather diffident employees might as well have been hired from Central Casting.

Silver Grille in Encino spells grill with an "e" so you know this place has an Attitude with a capital "A." It's an indoor/outdoor restaurant where you can dine on a sunny porch filled with banana plants or in an even sunnier outdoor patio under canvas umbrellas (which provide little relief at noontime). Either way, you have the privilege of sitting on plastic chairs that can be had for about five bucks apiece at your local home discount store.

Please excuse me if it sounds as if I'm grumbling. Silver Grille's food can be quite delicious, but I can't take my mind off some of the obvious flaws. In New York City, for example, a gruff welcome is occasionally part of the fun, a trial by fire where the locals are testing your moxie. In Encino, however, it comes across as jarring, especially when administered by a nervous owner.

Then there are the less-than-luxurious appointments, which include a few makeshift-looking bamboo blinds, several tacky vinyl table covers, a noticeable lack of air-conditioning and a pile of cardboard wine crates crowding the restroom. I realize that costs are at a premium these days, but since prices here are slightly above modest, why not the comforts?

If you're at all like me, you'll get most of your comfort here from the dishes, which could be described as Cal-Mex cuisine with a suspicion of homespun Americana. Everybody starts out with a basket of terrific, crusty sourdough bread and little packets of butter and margarine, the latter designed to ease the guilt that comes later.

Grilled appetizers uphold the restaurant's honor. The grilled stuffed pasilla chile is a real surprise. The stuffing is mild goat cheese mixed with dried tomato, yellow pepper and cilantro, and it all has a wonderfully sweet finish. What's more, the chile sits in a smooth pool of sauce.

There's a remarkable simplicity about the grilled asparagus, especially when the spears come up fresh and slightly blackened. Silver Grille serves them with a delicate tarragon sauce and chopped tomato.

On the patio are people who come for salads and sandwiches. The salads are generous types, like the muscular Caesar served in a huge bowl or seared scallops perched on a big bed of spinach with a mustard herb dressing.

Oriental slaw is a curiosity. It's basically chopped cabbage, all right, but with a twist. The kitchen mixes in lots of sliced almond, white sesame, wispy, fried rice noodle and rice vinegar, then tops it with a sliced, grilled chicken breast. It's probably the most original dish.

A sweet and spicy carrot and cabbage slaw comes with sandwiches here, and it's a winner, rather like the garnish you get in Thai and Vietnamese places. The burgers are huge and tasty, charbroiled half-pounders on sourdough with toppings like smoky bacon, avocado or Sonoma garlic jack. I'd come back for the tender chicken burger, which is relatively low in fat content. I also love the grilled red potatoes that round out the sandwiches.

The entrees are a little less interesting than the foregoing; they are your basic grill and pasta roundup. The free-range charbroiled half chicken is advertised with rosemary and garlic, but those flavors are masked by intense grilling. For $18.95 you might get a special like charred tiger shrimp--fat, flavorful and more willing to absorb lemon and garlic than the chicken--and a dollar more rewards you with a 19-ounce rib-eye steak with grilled onions. Also keep an eye out for the garlicky, al dente linguine with fresh clams.

As you enter, you may see the homemade tarte tatin. It tastes good, but not as good as it looks. It's made with firm, caramelized apples, enhanced by whipped cream.

Pass on the desserts brought in from outside ("killer" chocolate cake, toffee mousse cake). Order the tiramisu instead. This creamy, rum-flavored tiramisu is simple, elegant and yielding, and let's hope Silver Grille heads in the same direction.

Where and When

Location: Silver Grille, 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Suggested Dishes: grilled stuffed pasilla chile, $4.95; Oriental slaw, $9.95; chicken burger, $6.95; grilled rib-eye steak, $19.95.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Price: Dinner for two, $25-$40. Beer and wine only. Parking lot. Diner's Club, MasterCard and Visa accepted.

Call: (818) 784-4745.

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