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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Making an Effort to Roar : The innovative 100 West at Glendale's Red Lion Hotel sometimes fulfills its aims in daring style.

June 18, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life

Red Lion Hotels have made great strides in the last several years, and now the company seems to be getting intensely serious about food. The new 100 West at Glendale's Red Lion is both innovative and appealing.

Of course, it's still a hotel restaurant, subject to the usual pressure to exhibit a mad culinary eclecticism to appeal to a diverse clientele. The 100 West attempts to take us around the world's kitchens on a magic-carpet tasting menu.

It occasionally accomplishes this in daring style. For only $3.95 at lunch ($5 at dinner) you can have your waiter put together a sampler plate consisting of four items from a huge international appetizer table, many kept bubbling hot in tiny saucepans.

We're not talking Swedish meatballs or cocktail shrimp here. The chef, a young Vermonter named Elizabeth Loring, has filled the table with such dishes as smoked pears in mascarpone cheese, Moroccan rice salad, smoked chicken ravioli and grilled salmon with raspberry mayonnaise. And mostly they taste good . . . though not necessarily alongside one another.

The restaurant's decor fits the motif. The wood-paneled dining room is handsome, if boxy, but many people have remarked that they find it a bit cold. That must be the reason for the attempts to warm it up--an enormous potted palm, a trompe-l'oeil fresco depicting a blue sky with wispy clouds, lithographs of Greek and Roman edifices--which actually make the place rather busy looking. Like the food here, the design components are all nice; they just don't look all that comfortable with one another.

The tasting table fare is on the light side and well suited to lunch.

My favorite from it would be the mild lamb sausage with curried Dutch potatoes, an inspired combination that is terrific when warm (mine was tepid). A good hot item is roasted steak with three-color peppers. Here strips of tender beef are suspended in a rich demi-glaze, with the peppers (red, yellow and green) adding a delicate sweetness. Salad lovers can fight over the manly Caesar salad, though I must warn that the dressing is mercilessly laden with garlic. Have the Caesar at dinner, rather than lunch, unless you aren't planning a return trip to the office.

Main dishes are found in two places, on the lunch express menu (misnamed; preparation is on the slow side) and the dinner selections menu. They're less creative than the tasting items, but several showcase Loring's flair for the unusual. A lunchtime Parmesan souffle has a buttery upper crust and the surprise inclusion of fresh shrimp lurking beneath. Sesame-ginger chicken is Europeanized with penne pasta. A classic ground sirloin burger is crowned with Cheddar cheese and garnished with tempura-style onion rings, fried in beer batter.

Before choosing a dinner entree, you may want to do a spirits or wine tasting: three tastes of wine, vodka or Scotch for a set price. I tried the single malt Scotch tasting, with the malts poured into shot glasses sitting on a tiny marble replica of an Olympic medals stand. (So I preferred the one sitting in the bronze place to the gold shot glass in the middle; no problem.)

Dinner is more conventional than lunch. Even prime rib surfaces at this early hour. Roasted hazelnut chicken, though, isn't conventional; it's a boneless breast with a crisp fried crust that is almost pure ground hazelnuts.

There's a wild melange called penne pasta with lobster medallions that, though served on a plate, has a crusted top that makes it look as if it has been finished in a casserole dish.

You won't go far wrong with the marinated double lamb chops, served with couscous and rich pan juices. The grilled Gulf prawns I find a little weird, owing to a sweetish mango salsa and some puffy potato pancakes that taste as if they were made with commercial biscuit mix. Chef Loring has a definite liking for sweetness, by the way. How else to explain the powerful sweet onion marmalade that comes on a New York steak, obscuring the meat altogether?

The 100 West doesn't do a dessert tasting. You'll have to content yourself with either their buttery carrot cake, a sorbet-filled almond tuile or a fudgy macadamia chocolate slice that is trucked in daily from a Pasadena sweet shop.

Odd, but this is one hotel restaurant with no pastry chef. Well, that's original.

WHERE AND WHEN

Location: 100 West, Red Lion Hotel, 100 West Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale.

Suggested Dishes: sampler tasting, $3.95 lunch / $5 dinner; ground sirloin burger, $8; marinated double lamb chops, $15.95; roasted hazelnut chicken, $10.95.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 5:30-11 p.m. Saturday.

Price: Dinner for two, $30-$50. Full bar. Validated valet parking (two hours). All major cards.

Call: (818) 551-4050.

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