Scandia, once Los Angeles' most elegant restaurant, now stands shuttered. Sunset Plaza has replaced the Trocadero, where Bentleys and Rolls Royces delivered starlets and their leading men. The beloved diner Ben Frank's closed earlier this year. And yet dining on the most famous stretch of Sunset Boulevard hasn't gone the way of Norma Desmond. Old standbys like Le Dome continue to hold their own against brash upstarts like Billboard (Live).
After 19 years, Le Dome, that glitzy bastion of the Sunset Strip, still smacks of old Hollywood. Driving past, you can't help but notice the line of limos and foreign cars. Inside, people cluster around the dome-shaped bar. Familiar faces from the movie and music industries. Ladies who lunch. And there, legs casually crossed, is Mr. Sweepstakes himself, Ed McMahon, holding court on the terrace. In other words, this isn't exactly the Ivy crowd.
Indeed, Le Dome is the opposite of trendy. Strategically placed mirrors, tchotchkes, tables swathed in two sets of linens, candles and flattering lights lend it homely appeal. Most of the waiters have been here forever and have memorized regulars' favorite dishes and special menus. Sneeze discreetly a couple of times, and one of them will be there, advising you to pick up some vitamin C on the way home. Le Dome is a throwback to a different age, but it's nice to have someone be so solicitous.
Just as old-fashioned is the mostly French food. There's country-style pate and a very expensive imported terrine of duck foie gras with a speck of black truffle to spread on toasted homemade brioche. Never mind that the pate doesn't have much flavor; the kitchen should be applauded for its efforts. You'll also find escargots in parsley and garlic butter, decent mussels in white wine and shallots, and asparagus in vinaigrette. Lamb chops come with frilly paper leggings, and grilled chicken is served in the kind of mustard sauce my French roommate's mother used to make.
Which brings me to the most interesting dishes, listed as "our casserole country dishes." Here, owner Eddie Kerkhofs isn't fooling around. He's got sauteed boudin noir (blood sausage) and boudin blanc (veal and chicken sausage), both served with applesauce and mashed potatoes. The links are plump and bursting with juices; I only wish they were of a better quality. Still, where else can you order steamed pig's knuckle with sauerkraut, even if the sauerkraut is rather ordinary? Or coq au vin? Le Dome's is a workman-like version, its dark sauce over-reduced and the chicken a bit dried out, but on a wintry evening, it's awfully appealing. So are the meaty braised oxtails in another robust wine sauce. And if you happen to order something that doesn't come with mashed potatoes, try the Belgian specialty stoemp, mashed potatoes mixed with spinach.
But what, you might ask, are all the svelte Beautiful People eating? Platters of Canadian oysters from Crescent Beach. And the fish specials, which are cooked with considerably more finesse than the rest of the menu. The choices one night are perfectly baked herb-crusted halibut in lemon sauce set on a bed of mashed potatoes or grilled salmon with braised endive fanned out on the plate. After being so virtuous, it's easy to ask the waiter to bring you a piece of the fabulously gooey St. Honore cake.
All in all, Le Dome offers solid middle-brow French fare. It's pricey for what you get, but, hey, if this is your scene, you really don't care. And if it isn't, well, you just might get to sit next to a big-name director or a country music star. Or not.
Le Dome, 8720 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 659-6919. Closed Sunday and at lunch Saturday. Dinner for two, food only, $60 to $115.
The new kid on the Strip is 4-month-old Billboard (Live), where dining can be as frenetic as the club's salvage-yard architecture. Conceived as a showcase for new music and old talent on the comeback trail, Billboard (Live) followed House of Blues' lead in hiring a high-profile chef. House of Blues had Ken Frank before he decamped to fe --nix at the Argyle; Billboard (Live) has John Sedlar, who left Abiquiu to become a chef-for-hire. And Sedlar's latest menu is full of weird and wonderful tricks, some recycled from his other restaurant ventures.
Eating at Billboard (Live) can be an exercise in frustration that begins with making a reservation, so consider yourself warned. Rarely can you get anyone on the phone; instead you have to leave a message and wait to be called back. And except for late--very late--dining from a limited menu, if you want to eat, you more than likely have to buy tickets for the show, too. But once you secure tickets and a table, you do get the royal treatment. Upon arriving at the narrrow three-story building, the beefy doorman checks your name against a clipboard and whisks you onto an elevator sheathed in brushed copper. "Press two," he whispers.