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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A Tentative Rule Over French-Vietnamese

February 02, 1996|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

It's an astonishing transformation: from Hamburger Hamlet to Le Colonial, an elegant French-Vietnamese restaurant that just opened in West Hollywood. The look of the place is polished and cool. In the downstairs dining room, tall shutters, graceful palms, a patchwork tile floor and vintage black-and-white photos of Vietnam under French colonial rule evoke nostalgia for that country's remote past.

Upstairs, on a veranda, ceiling fans turn as the light fades over Beverly Boulevard. The large bar off that veranda is furnished with deep, comfy sofas and cane armchairs, faded Oriental carpets and intricate bamboo bird cages.

And the entire menu of a dozen appetizers can be ordered in this glamorous setting, including Vietnamese spring rolls, spicy beef salad with lemon grass and basil, a salad of greens and herbs with fresh pineapple in a tamarind vinaigrette.

The restaurant is a spinoff of Le Colonial in New York, which, like this one, was created by French-born restaurateur Jean Denoyer. The chef is Khai Duong, who cooked at the New York restaurant and previously worked as pastry chef and cook at Le Bernadin, also in New York.

The first week the kitchen served a pared-down preview menu (the full menu begins Sunday). It's early to say, but the French-Vietnamese food seems a bit reticent, toned down for the restaurant's perceived audience., i.e. colonial. Duong could stand to be bolder in his cooking: I think Los Angeles could not only take it, but also love it.

* Le Colonial, 8783 Bonner Drive (off Beverly Boulevard at Robertson), West Hollywood, (310) 289-0660. Open for dinner seven days a week; Lunch service starts sometime next week. Major credit cards accepted. Appetizers $5-$9.50; entrees $12.50-$19.50. Valet parking.

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