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Restaurant Review : To BG or Not to BG . . . Best to Not

November 04, 1994|MICHELLE HUNEVEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES and We're at the Century City Marketplace food court waiting for our BG souffles to cook

BG stands for Bistro Garden, the Beverly Hills institution that — Nancy Reagan is said to eat there weekly. In these tight-belt times, when the city's most high-powered restaurants have created casual, more affordable venues, Bistro Garden has followed suit with two options: BG to Go, a take-out restaurant adjacent to the Studio City Bistro Garden, and this Century City food stall.

Twenty minutes, says the woman at the BG Souffle counter. We buy drinks, snag a table. Next to us a woman eats stew from a round loaf of bread. Bite after bite, she lifts off the bread top, spoons out a chunk of meat, then reseals it. We're too hungry to watch. But then, it's tough to resist fruit slushes, tostadas, deli food, Johnny Rocket's rich milk shakes--as food courts go, Century City's is one of the more alluring.

*

Time crawls. We gaze sullenly at caramel apples, and really want one of those plump World Links sausages . . . or so we think until we actually order one and split it three ways.

Four minutes to go.

OK, we'll split a fruit slush too.

Finally, a kid at the BG Souffle counter gives us a wave, and out of the oven they come, five quivering little brown hats in tiny aluminum pans. To make sure it's done, the kid pulls off the top of the chocolate souffle and peers inside. Satisfied, he plops the top back on and slides each souffle into a white disposable plastic dish.

Even as they deflate, we still can't eat 'em, not yet: These souffles are perilously hot. We blow on forkfuls, try to be patient. Even so, we scorch our mouths before we learn: Each bite must be held aloft at length to cool. Soon, we're sitting there, talking, waving loaded forks.

Is it worth the scorched mouths and waiting?

Frankly, no. Spinach and cheese souffles are so salty, they're almost inedible. The cheese, especially, has the texture of watery, overcooked eggs. The pumpkin is airy and only lightly-sweet, but also lightly flavored--not worth the calories. The vanilla tastes like uncooked cake batter. I've had great chocolate souffles, which shared a wonderful crustiness, a cakey intermediate zone and a molten, rich, custard core. This BG chocolate souffle has the texture of soggy bread and tastes like cocoa made from skim milk.

*

BG to Go on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City is a gleaming take-out kitchen with an impressive rotisserie and a vast, varied menu. You can eat outside on the pleasant patio under green umbrellas, but don't expect a Bistro Garden experience: The tableware is disposable, and there's no sense of actual dining--appetizers, salads and entrees are all served at once. It's more the place for a quick bite or cappuccino made with rich, strong Illy coffee.

Prettily browned rotisserie duckling and chicken are the things to order here--only we wish the whole chicken wasn't chopped up like a Peking duck. Forget such side dishes as greasy potato pancakes, bland chili, forgettable potato salad. And don't be tempted by the rotisserie baby back ribs: Despite a sweet, molasses-rich sauce, they're low on flavor. A decent coq au vin is probably the tastiest thing on the menu. Beef provencale , long-cooked stringy beef, is a bland version of ropa vieja .

Chopped Chinese chicken salad comes with a ghastly hoisin dressing. The California salad with endive, watercress, papaya, tomato, and avocado should be good but with the house vinaigrette, it's phenomenally, curiously flavorless. Cold lobster, chicken burgers, chicken pot pie, spinach and ravioli all need more punch. A penne with fresh, tasteless tomato is so overcooked, it's mushy.

Take-out food is excellently packed in state of the art containers: no seeps or spills on the way home. Too bad what's inside is so consistently dull.

* BG Souffle, Century City Market Place, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City , (310) 201-0090. Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cash and checks accepted. Souffles, $2.95 to $3.45 each. * BG to Go, 12930 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) FOOD-2-GO. Open 7 days for lunch and dinner. Open for breakfast on the weekends. Major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $15 to $62.

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