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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | RESTAURANT REVIEW

An Appetizing Addition

Newest cafe spinoff delivers its best dishes at breakfast and lunch.

May 08, 1997|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The pace may have slackened but the march over the hill continues.

I refer to the tendency of hot L.A. restaurants to open spinoffs in the Valley. We've seen Joe Miller's estimable JoeJoe's, the bustling Delmonico's Seafood Grill and the popular Italian rosticceria Rosti. Now Kings Road--818, the Sherman Oaks edition of a successful Beverly Boulevard cafe, joins the parade. Sound the trumpets.

This distinctive-looking restaurant is the handiwork of San Francisco designer Michael Brennan. The main dining area, featuring a brick-framed display kitchen, has a parquet floor and an oddball orange ceiling of corrugated metal. The walls are painted in relaxing autumn colors, and one large rear wall is dominated by a Picasso-esque Cubist relief. Meanwhile, the tall, elegant purple velvet curtains positioned throughout the restaurant recall a Charles Addams cartoon.

What with the hip decor and the restaurant's eclectic Westside menu, you would expect that Valleyites would be beating a path to its swinging-glass doors. But business has been quiet in the two months or so that Kings Road--818 has been open, and the last evening I visited, the doors were closed at 9:30 p.m. because the restaurant was empty.

That may change when the beer and wine license is issued, supposedly this week. In the meantime, though, Kings Road--818 is a dependable spot for breakfast and lunch, and threatens to be at dinner, when the kitchen finds a reason to expand the currently limited evening menu.

Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. The restaurant's location--cater-corner to one of the top newsstands in town--is good luck for those who like to read about the state of the world with their morning coffee.

The food at breakfast is a mixed bag. Good muffins, scones, croissants and pastries are made on premises, and the cafe's standard cuppa joe--it's really an Americano, a double shot of espresso diluted with boiling water--is a real eye-opener.

Eggs are better here if you ask for them easy, because the kitchen has a tendency to overcook them. Still, "seared" eggs (fried at a high temperature) with Fontina and Black Forest ham is a delicious idea, though it's a bit stingy with the ham and cheese. Spinach, mushroom and goat cheese omelet is successful because the components work well.

Among the non-egg breakfasts, the country sourdough French toast, served with real maple syrup and fresh strawberries, is delicious. I didn't share my waitress' enthusiasm for a breakfast risotto with dried figs, honey and nutmeg. The figs were nice and plentiful, but there were only traces of honey and nutmeg. Basically it was a bland rice mush.

For now, lunch seems to be the best meal. The menu is filled with soups, salads and hearty Italian sandwiches. The only soup available every day is curried cream of carrot, a thick pumpkin-orange puree, appealingly sweet, that reminded me a little of a certain dessert you get in Indian restaurants.

Rotisserie roast-chicken salad is a pleasant mix of mesclun greens, toasted walnuts, pungent Stilton cheese and (a few too many) tart apple slices, tossed with small pieces of skinless, boneless chicken (both white and dark meat, for once).

Among the sandwiches, the panino made with smoked salmon, tomato, red onion, cucumber and watercress has a nice juxtaposition of flavors, though it gets soggy fast. No complaint with the smoked turkey. This is a stand-up sandwich that can travel, made with seared greens, a spicy red pepper rouille and a pile of thinly sliced turkey.

The main dinner complaint is the overenthusiastic use of salt, though this is less of a problem in the appetizers. Herbed goat cheese in filo pastry with mixed greens is like the spanakopita you get in a Greek restaurant, with the novel addition of roasted garlic and red pepper.

Louisiana pepper-garlic shrimp in Cajun beer batter sauce is rich and creamy, tasting more of Paris than New Orleans. The pasta in penne with sauteed wild mushrooms and Parmesan in vegetable broth is prepared al dente and the dish is properly restrained and nicely balanced.

Entrees show creativity, but concept often surpasses execution. Ginger-honey glazed salmon with sticky rice and stir-fry vegetables is a piece of grilled salmon perched on a round timbale of rice layered with mixed Chinese vegetables, spoiled by an excessively salty soy-based brown sauce.

The tomatillo-marinated skirt steak is accompanied by corn relish and Kermit green mashed potatoes mixed with poblano chile; interesting but not spectacular. There's a grilled chicken breast with fennel-scented risotto and wild mushrooms that isn't as salty as most entrees here, though it's still hardly the thing for those watching their sodium intake.

The homemade desserts include a fudgy flourless chocolate cake, a creamy chocolate raspberry truffle cake and an individual lemon meringue pie. The pie ignores the conventional wisdom about the equipoise between the tartness of lemon and the sweetness of meringue, and is altogether sweet. Hey, we have Westside palates around here too, fella.

BE THERE

Kings Road--818, 14502 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Open Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-11 p.m. Lunch for two, $16-$23. Suggested dishes: rotisserie roast chicken salad, $8.95; smoked turkey panino, $6.95; penne pasta with wild mushroom, $9.75; grilled chicken breast with fennel risotto, $12.50. No alcohol. Street parking. Visa and MasterCard accepted. (818) 789-9044.

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