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Enjoy Old-Fashioned Experience at Mr. Stox : Superior Wine List and Rich Menu Add to Elegant Setting

July 08, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants weekly for The Times Orange County Edition.

Scott Raczek doesn't bow much to trends, even if he is a good deal younger than the majority of his customers at Mr. Stox. A fortunate location near Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center has made this huge, luxuriously appointed place (from the outside, it looks more like a rambling Spanish hacienda than a restaurant) a natural magnet for both vacationing families and business people. And one still rubs elbows with old money in here.

Trends? Who needs trends? This is rich, old-fashioned food, and don't you forget it, even if one flyer for the restaurant refers to "contemporary cuisine."

Mr. Stox is also heaven for wine buffs. The wine cellar contains more than 20,000 bottles--vintage Bordeaux, boutique Californias and an eye-opening number of rare bottlings. The restaurant's massive, leather-bound list is one of only two in the county to have received the Wine Spectator's coveted Grand Award. (The other belongs to Fullerton's The Cellar, a recipient just last year.)

The wine list is an eye-opener itself. On it, you'll find everything from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Chateau d'Yquem, two of the world's most expensive labels, to dozens of simple, delicious wines under $20. A half bottle of a wonderful wine called Rocking Horse Zinfandel is $13. You can pay nearly $1,000 for a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

You've probably deduced that this is not a place to wear a T-shirt. Those familiar with the Ritz in Newport Beach should conjure up a less ostentatious version of that restaurant, with impeccable service, lots of black leather booths and cream-colored walls adorned with flood-lit oil paintings. One room is a fireside lounge, well suited for casual dinners.

The main dining room, where lawyers and businessmen often host boisterous after-work dinners, is fancied up with a floral carpet, French provincial chairs and, on most nights, a harpist playing a mixture of classical and popular tunes.

Chef Raczek attempts to mirror this stylistic mix. He likes to grill things on his mesquite broiler but can't seem to resist dousing almost everything with some type of rich sauce. I find this puzzling. Grilled foods are popular in part because they are on the light side. I'd like these main courses better without the rich sauces.

Meals get off to a bang-up start thanks to a variety of terrific breads. Raczek recently added a contraption called the Baxter stone hearth bread oven, which uses steam to bake fresh breads. The result is a basketful of hot, crusty loaves: Kalamata olive and rosemary, beet and fennel (bright red, that one), an addictive goat's cheese bread and, my personal favorite, sunflower wheat crusted on the outside with whole nuts.

Lunch is the meal for lighter-sounding items such as soups, salads, pastas and sandwiches. Black bean soup makes a great light lunch alongside these breads. It's a smooth, pureed version with a delicate web of sour cream on the surface, served in a porcelain crock. Both the Caesar and spinach salads are vehicles for saucy dressings, generously applied.

Pastas are generous too. If blackened swordfish pieces tossed with homemade egg linguine sounds like a great idea, that's because it is. Now if the kitchen would only hold up some of that garlic cream sauce.

Most of the sandwiches on the restaurant's new pub menu have an ingredient too many for my taste; they're all (with the exception of the fine Mr. Stox turkey and bacon club) gooed up with a different kind of melted cheese. Even blue cheese garlic bread, a great concept, is sunk by too much cheese. However, I'm a big fan of this menu's thick-sliced, spicy homemade potato chips.

At dinner, rich special-occasion starters such as pate and lobster bisque predominate. I really looked forward to Raczek's pate, described on the menu as "warm chicken livers with roasted peppers." Then the dish arrived--pate blanketed in an unctuous red pepper sauce and garnished with baked cheese toasts. Three oils for the price of one.

The lightest entree is probably Hawaiian ahi, a top-notch piece of seared fish presented on sauteed snow peas. Orange ginger sauce and spicy vegetable won ton round the dish out, perhaps the menu's one bow to both Pacific Rim and spa cuisines.

Mesquite grilled swordfish and New York steak are both delicious . . . and overdressed. The swordfish sits on a bed of stir-fried vegetables and a creamy rosemary sauce. The steak, a champion black Angus cut, has a roasted onion sauce, deep-fried onions, snappy corn and crisp spears of asparagus.

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