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Casual Chic--No Waiting

Crowds haven't flocked to Parizot, even though the menu has a lot to please.

April 16, 1998|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — "We're not McDonald's," huffed owner George Foddai at a customer's complaint that the food was taking a long time.

He might have given a softer answer, but I understood his point. At Parizot, his new French bistro on busy Pine Avenue, everything is carefully prepared and artfully dished up. And maybe Foddai was just venting because the public has failed to turn out in force for what is in fact a very smooth operation.

That's a pity. This is one of the snazziest bistros to open beyond the L.A. city limits in quite a while.

You'll recognize it from the strikingly Op Art red-and-yellow striped awning that distinguishes Parizot from other restaurants on the avenue. Inside, the color scheme is dominated by mahogany and white linen. Parizot is the epitome of casual chic, and it looks particularly elegant in the evening, when soft lighting mutes the restaurant's aggressively masculine style.

Many of the plush booths have brass plates stamped with the names of regular lunch customers. For those who prefer to dine in relative anonymity, a rear patio affords a more intimate option. The area around the fairly classic-looking mahogany bar is decorated with posters from the Formula One racing circuit.

The one touch of femininity comes from flowers. Parizot keeps its main dining area filled with floral sprays, just like many of the restaurants in Foddai's native Provence.

How well all this fits into downtown Long Beach remains to be seen. The restaurant is often quiet in the evening, while less accomplished restaurants on the street play to overflow crowds.

The food at Parizot is pretty straightforward, but a few of Foddai's creations have proved too European for local tastes. He recently took what I considered his best dish, gnocchi with foie gras and asparagus, off the menu because it wasn't selling--although it's still served as an off-menu specialty. It's a terrific blend of flavors and a nice reflection of Foddai's French and Italian family background.

*

Luckily, the menu has a long way to go before it runs out of appeal. The cured salmon was good enough to wow a Japanese friend who's particular about fish. This is smoky, buttery salmon, fanned out on the plate like a good carpaccio. What's really impressive are the bits of crisped salmon skin on each slice, a clever conception that mixes European and Asian accents without trying too hard.

He also serves deliciously salty prosciutto San Daniele carpaccio-style, sliced razor-thin and crowned with chopped endives and tiny sliced cornichons. For a more architectural beginning, there is portobello mushroom Napoleon, an ingenious stack of the huge, meaty mushrooms alternating with avocados, sun-dried tomatoes and light, spongy bufala mozzarella. I like the way the flavors blend--and the splash of balsamic vinegar that gives the ingredients more balance.

If richness is what you seek, Parizot makes a crab and lobster bisque with cream and amontillado Sherry, a coral-pink soup informed by the briny essences of shellfish. Or you could embellish a meal with the rich garlic and Roquefort cheese baguettes. The bread is brought bubbling hot in a wicker basket. Think of it as garlic bread with an advanced degree.

The best entrees are the ones that would be most at home in, well, a bistro. A piece of perfectly roasted whitefish, mounted on mashed potatoes (which have been mashed with a little codfish in the style of the Provencal dish brandade), is drizzled with olive oil and topped with fried leeks. Sometimes there are fish specials such as sea bass or light, perfectly delicious Catalina sand dabs. The restaurant prepares them a la meuniere, fried in pure butter and dressed with lemon and parsley.

Perhaps the best non-fish entree is lamb loin with flageolet beans, roast potatoes and a light rosemary sauce. (It goes particularly well with one of the mid-priced Bordeaux reds from Parizot's eclectic wine list.) Another intelligent option is veal medallions with mushroom timbale in a sherry reduction. It's a bit uptown for the bistro concept, but Parizot executes the dish in style.

But not everything works quite so well. I was slightly put off by the turkey and chicken boudin blanc sausage with white beans and warm potato salad; everything had been drenched in an overwhelming whole grain mustard sauce. What's more, the sausage was watery, not nearly soulful enough to qualify as a good bistro sausage plate.

A pork loin with spaetzle, Swiss chard and apple chutney sounds Germanic, or perhaps Alsatian, but that's not the problem. The dish came to the table salty and overcooked, even though the spaetzle--bite-sized egg dumplings with crisp, buttery surfaces--were fun to eat by themselves.

*

Parizot makes its own pastries, among them a good caramelized apple tart, served hot, and a rich chocolate marquis--something in between a mousse and a flourless chocolate cake, served in a large wedge. For what it's worth, the restaurant also makes the best espresso on the street, rich and with a powerful finishing kick.

If Parizot were drawing the crowds it deserves, lingering over coffee in this handsome bistro would feel almost like it does in Europe. (And for the record, Europe has no shortage of McDonald's.)

Parizot is expensive. Appetizers are $2.95 to $8.25. Entrees are $14.25 to $19.95. Desserts are $5.

BE THERE

Parizot, 135 Pine Ave., Long Beach. (562) 437-2119.

11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30-10:30 p.m. daily. All major cards.

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