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VALLEY WEEKEND | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Goulash Weighs in With Schnitzels, Stews

Cabbage, potatoes and, of course, paprika complement the hearty, piquant Hungarian dishes.

July 25, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ah, Goulash--a room of mystery, a room echoing with Hungarian-accented voices, a room that doesn't get much outside light.

No kidding. Even though party streamers are hung across the ceiling and the long tables are draped with pink tablecloths, it is not what you would describe as a cheerful room. Take out the pink, and the restaurant--which has been under new ownership for the last year and a half--is more like what I envision as the recesses of Bluebeard's Castle. Thank God the food is good.

On weekend evenings, a pianist playing gypsy music draws crowds to the restaurant. The rest of the time the soundtrack is usually a tape of popular favorites such as "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Strangers in the Night," sung in Hungarian.

Heavy, man. But the food will certainly lift your spirits, though it may also weigh down your body. The first courses--all a la carte--are either soups or salads: the eponymous goulash soup (spelled gulyas in Hungarian), a hearty Hungarian fish soup or a sweet-and-sour cucumber salad. The soups are the more interesting.

The goulash, in particular, is terrific. It comes in a miniature version of the traditional goulash kettle (bogracs); the small iron pot hangs from a curved wrought-iron structure set up at your table. You ladle it out for yourself. It's based on beef stock, piquant (and red in color) from paprika, plus chunks of beef, carrots and potatoes.

The fish soup comes in the same type of kettle, but it's entirely different in character. In Hungary, this soup would probably be made with fogacs, a kind of lake trout, but here in Burbank they use catfish. The result is a dish that is intensely orange from paprika and again stocked with carrots and potatoes, delivering hints of iodine, Mississippi mud and deepest summer.

Catfish is also available as a main dish, breaded and deep fried. You'd swear it was a Southern dish if it weren't for the fact that it comes with red cabbage and pan-fried potatoes.

*

My favorite main dish at Goulash is stuffed cabbage. The cabbage is lightly rolled around a stuffing of meat and rice and served in a heady paprika sauce. There must be bacon or some other smoked meat layered into the stuffing, but you won't be able to pick it out. The cabbage rolls are cooked so long and slow that everything inside sort of melts together.

It's worth mentioning that these dishes are prepared with vegetable oil instead of the traditional diznozsir (lard). That's how a dish like chicken paprika can be relatively light--certainly by comparison with what you'd find in the Hungarian countryside, where it would be hearty in the extreme.

The chicken we got was positively scrawny, in fact. The three little pieces, in their ruddy paprika sauce, came with homemade tarhonya--small egg dumplings akin to the spaetzle of German-speaking countries.

Other entrees include schnitzels and stews, most notably szekely gulyas, which is often (as on this menu) called Transylvanian goulash. It's essentially pork stewed with caraway seeds on a bed of sauerkraut, topped with a gob of sour cream. What makes it appealing for me is the technique of soaking the sauerkraut to reduce its sourness, which brings out the natural sweetness of the cabbage.

All the schnitzels--and much more--appear in the restaurant's piece de resistance, the wooden platter. The menu says it serves two people, but that is a modest assessment.

It's a huge platter piled literally a foot high with the following: delicious home-fried potatoes with bacon and onions, red cabbage, pickles, a huge paprika-laden sausage (kolbasz), a breaded pork chop, a Parisian cutlet, some wiener schnitzel, a breaded chicken liver and deep-fried mushrooms. The whole thing is held together by a circular cut of bacon atop an enormous wooden skewer. What a feast.

For dessert, there are four types of crepes (palascinta). These are rolled pancakes, just like you'd get on the street in France except for the fillings. One has a sweet apricot jam, another walnuts and a dark chocolate sauce, a third contains a sweet cottage cheese (turos) and finally there's one with a jammy blackberry concoction.

What, you're full?

DETAILS

* WHAT: Goulash.

* WHERE: 3415 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank.

* WHEN: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Sunday; dinner 4-11 p.m. Monday-Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $27-$35. Suggested dishes: goulash soup, $7; stuffed cabbage, $8; wooden platter, $23.50; Hungarian crepes, $4.

* FYI: Full bar. Parking lot. American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

* CALL: (818) 845-8724.

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