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Eats | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

An Inclusive Engagement

Once private, the Buffalo Club takes reservations and is open for lunch, serving classic American fare.

May 22, 1997|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Patrick Healy is executive chef at three restaurants--the French bistro Xiomara in Pasadena, a smart little Cuban restaurant called Oye in Xiomara's back room--and the sophisticated Buffalo Club in Santa Monica, where he reinterprets classic American dishes with verve.

At dinner, the posh, clubby Olympic Boulevard hideaway with its unlisted number and beefy guys playing sentinel at the door has attitude--and plenty of it. Who's fooling whom with that grubby facade of a defunct old watering hole? All the better to enjoy the contrasts inside, my dear. How hard is it to find when a line of luxury cars and the occasional Hummer is lined up nose to nose at the valet station?

A couple of years old now, the Buffalo Club has had to evolve. First it shed the private club identity, opening the restaurant to reservations from anyone who managed to find out the phone number. Then it opened for lunch a few months ago. For the occasion, Healy created a special menu.

The surprise is how good-looking the room is at lunch, when daylight filtered through a high window shows off the restaurant's handsome details: the sumptuous tobacco leather chairs trimmed in big brass studs, the antique wood-framed mirrors, the extravagant vases of flowers. If you reserve one of the handful of booths, the Buffalo Club is perfect for a business meeting or an assignation at lunch (when it's quiet enough to hear each other).

Healy's consummate American cooking makes it worth the excursion with no other object in mind but to have a good lunch. He has one of the best Cobb salads anywhere, each element presented discretely on the plate; you mix it together to taste. There's a great club sandwich, too, made with smoked chicken, bacon, a ripe tomato and butter lettuce, plus a glorious burger on a soft, poppy-seeded roll with great fixings--and terrific fries. For dessert, get the divine pecan pie crumble sundae, pecan pie crumbled over vanilla bean ice cream drowned in a thick, dark fudge sauce.

New for summer: an elegant back patio, framed by lattices and formal hedges and dotted with potted orange trees and topiaries of rhododendron and fuchsia. And green canvas market umbrellas to keep the sun out of your eyes.

BE THERE

Buffalo Club, 1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-8600. Now open Monday through Friday for lunch (as well as Monday through Saturday for dinner). Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Appetizers $5 to $9; entrees $12 to $19 at lunch.

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