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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Going Upscale at the Club : While the service and decor at the relocated St. Moritz Restaurant justify the prices, the food doesn't.

July 22, 1994|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!

LOS ANGELES — St. Moritz Restaurant, a stalwart of continental cuisine, has left the Boulevard for a snazzy new location at Toluca Lake Tennis Club. The kitchen, I'm afraid, needs an equally radical change.

How well I remember those meals of fondue, beef rouladen and Caesar salad when St. Moritz was in its heyday, 20 years or so ago. The original St. Moritz was a pretty restaurant full of red leather booths and proud of its lovely outdoor patio lushly landscaped with ferns and plants.

Eat outside at the new location, though, and you get a different experience. This outdoor patio overlooks a tennis court, where there are sure to be players whacking the ball at each other amid the typically stiff breezes that prevail in the Cahuenga Pass.

My advice: Ad in (that's tennis lingo for "sit inside"). The high-ceilinged dining room is painted a relaxing pastel green, the floor covered by a beautiful marine blue carpet. Elegant, mirrored French doors, leading nowhere, frame the south side of the room. A flowered tapestry adorns the upper perimeter of the wall, just under the ceiling. The chairs are comfortably upholstered, the tables dressed up with beautiful china and white linen.

In short, imagine an elegant ballroom, complete with cocktail pianist, and a bunch of hungry folks in tennis outfits. Somehow, the juxtaposition seems perfectly natural in Los Angeles.

The service is a bit formal here too. Waiters scurry to minister to your every need, even preparing a dish or two--notably Caesar salad--on table-side carts, and that feels less natural. To a degree the decor and service justify St. Moritz's high prices; what you eat certainly doesn't. Many dishes are not nearly as flavorful as I remember in the old St. Moritz. There's little passion in this cooking, less imagination. They won't even do beef rouladen , though it remains on the menu.

Bundner teller , a plate of paper-thin slices of air-dried beef that tastes like smoky prosciutto, is still one of the best ways to begin a meal here. Sometimes free appetizers appear while you wait for your main course--a nice thought, but nothing to get excited about. We got deep-fried cubes filled with a ham and spinach frittata . They reminded everyone of croquettes from Stouffer. Crab-filled mushrooms Diablo were also a disappointment. The stuffing was heavy and oily, again reminiscent of the frozen food case.

But the first course was rescued by the restaurant's fine Caesar salad, still one of the best around: a garlicky, anchovy-rich model where each leaf of romaine comes out of the bowl coated with Worcestershire and mustard-flavored egg yolk. My one complaint is that the garlic in the dressing didn't have that freshly chopped bite.

The main courses are mostly holdovers from the old restaurant, but there are also occasional specials written up on a board that the waiters bring to your table. Go Swiss with cheese fondue. Get Mexican by ordering a fine white shrimp dish sauteed with tequila, cilantro, pico de gallo and artichoke.

I haven't tried the Swiss fondue since the move, but I do know that it is based on Gruyere, six other cheeses and the cherry liqueur kirschwasser. It also carries a $20-per-person price tag (served for two or more, with soup and salad), which is a lot of money for any kind of cheese sauce. Wiener schnitzel a la Holstein is a terrific concept, a nice, breaded piece of veal topped with a fried egg, anchovies and capers. This veal scallop is just a shade tough, though. A great schnitzel is always pounded very tender.

A delicious, airy Godiva chocolate souffle awaits you for dessert, served simply and intelligently with whipped cream. There are also a few good, rich items that the restaurant buys from a commercial bakery called La Mousse. Among them are a smooth chocolate mousse pie and a Euro-style apple pie served hot--ultra-fine cut apples piled high in a wedge of flaky crust.

It's easy to understand why owners Manny Slali and Steve Applegate moved to this location. It's near the studios and apparently a good spot for power lunching. The restaurant books its share of private parties, too--meaning you'd do well to reserve in advance, especially on weekends.

Harder to understand is how a restaurant can lose its passion and still expect to charge these prices. Tennis, anyone?

WHERE AND WHEN

Location: St. Moritz, 6711 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.

Suggested Dishes: Bundner teller, $6.50; Caesar salad, served for two or more, $6.50 person; Wiener schnitzel, $18.50; Mexican white shrimp, $19.50; Godiva chocolate souffle, $6.50.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Price: Dinner for two, $40-$65. Full bar. Valet parking. All major cards.

Call: (213) 851-8844.

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