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EATS: Restaurant reviews and news | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Short on Sizzle

Grill's wood ovens turn out tasty pizzas, but the meat courses falter.

June 26, 1997|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it's hot in the Valley, just remember--after sunset there are cool breezes at the top of Beverly Glen, and the air is scented with night-blooming jasmine.

Some people will remember when Mulholland Grill's location here in the up-market Glen Center mall was Shane on the Glen, a Spago wannabe that offered grilled meats, wood-oven pizzas, a former Spago maitre d' and an interior designed by Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang Puck's wife and partner.

The restaurant is under new ownership and the menu slants toward Italy these days, but as the saying goes, plus ca change. The menu still inclines to wood-fired pizzas, and Lazaroff's crazy tiles and mondo bizarro banquettes remain firmly part of the landscape.

The food at Mulholland Grill has its moments, and not all of them are perfect. The complimentary appetizers, at least, are served with a flourish and turn out to be encouraging: a small bowl of high-quality checca (chopped tomatoes with basil and garlic), a subtly salty olive spread and a platter of herbed pizza bread wedges baked crisp.

If the idea of the pizza bread is to sell us on ordering a pizza, it works--the dough has a terrific flavor and the wood oven imparts a nice texture. And the pizzas are worth trying. Garlic shrimp pizza, for instance, features a lightly spiced marinara sauce, garlic, mozzarella, whole shrimp and a judicious sprinkling of arugula.

I also recommend an old Spago standby, smoked salmon pizza. It would probably work better at a Sunday brunch than as a prelude to pasta and grilled foods, but the prospect of good pizza dough spread with a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese, chives and a layer of butter-soft salmon is hard to resist.

One evening the special was risotto porcini, a big plate of nicely stirred arborio rice bound with an intense butter and white wine reduction. The flavor of porcini dominates this excellent dish, although scarcely a single mushroom is visible.

The angel hair pasta with lobster is unusual for actually needing more sauce--California restaurants habitually over-sauce. (The waiters will give you more sauce if you ask.) Penne with chicken sausage is a clever dish made with crushed walnuts, marinara sauce and tiny, delicious chicken polpette, though technically they're a meatball, rather than a sausage.

The restaurant's meat course dishes are a bit weak. The flavor of the (somewhat fatty) grilled rack of lamb is mostly masked by a red wine balsamic vinaigrette. Ditto on grilled New York steak, where the good lean meat is obscured by the same violent sauce. (They even serve Alaskan salmon in this loud sauce.) In this context, the sesame seared ahi with wasabi ginger dressing stands out for a good balance of flavors, and we won't gripe that it's a maddening Southland restaurant cliche.

They make the most of that wood-fired oven at Mulholland Grill. The excellent baked desserts all have the same springiness as the pizza dough. Best of all is nonna, or "grandmother's tart," a firm, buttery filling that vaguely recalls a lemon custard in an excellent short crust. Also good are a rich chocolate tart with a darkly sweet finish and a fine, light tiramisu.

But desserts are ephemeral. The best dessert may be the one you have the moment you step out to catch the scent of flowers, blooming high above Los Angeles on a glorious summer night.

*

BE THERE

Mulholland Grill, 2932 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 6-10 p.m. daily. Dinner for two, $30-$49. Suggested dishes: smoked salmon pizza, $12.95; risotto porcini, $12.95; penne with chicken sausages, $8.50; ahi tuna, $14.95. Full bar. Lot and valet parking. All major cards. (310) 470-6223.

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