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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A Quiet Opening

Bistrot Provencal follows a growing L.A. trend toward the cuisine of Provence.

January 01, 1998|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

After the bright lights of Fattie's, the now-defunct restaurant named, improbably and unluckily, after silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, the sign of Bistrot Provencal, the new restaurant tenant in the same La Cienega Boulevard space, is remarkably discreet.

Owner Jean Francois Meteigner of La Cachette is no stranger to the neighborhood. After all, he was chef up the street at L'Orangerie for years and says he's long had designs on that locale.

Next to Tuscan cuisine and that broad category dubbed fusion, Provencal cuisine is emerging as a strong trend in Los Angeles. Meteigner and designer Laurent Latour have decked out the dining room and enclosed outdoor patio with cobalt blue chairs with rush seats, saffron-colored Provencal print tablecloths and a collection of French country tchotchkes. The wood-burning oven left over from a previous Italian restaurant comes in handy for baking pissaladiere (the anchovy-and-onion topped flatbread popular all over Provence) and for roasting poultry and whole fish.

To start, you can get a good bowl of steamed clams and mussels or marinated herring draped across small rounds of potatoes. St. Tropez fish soup comes with an oddly unemphatic rouille and what looks like a slice of focaccia. The brandade is gentrified, too, made from potatoes and salted fresh cod instead of pungent dried salt cod and garnished with a few potato chips instead of croutons.

The best dishes I tried on a recent visit were a whole red snapper from the wood-burning oven with fennel and a splash of Ricard, an anise-scented liqueur; a homey pie of minced beef and lamb with eggplant and mashed potatoes; and a simple veal daube.

At this point, though, the food tastes like something a cook who had never experienced the bold, sun-drenched flavors of Provence would whip up in a Nebraska kitchen. I would have expected stronger cooking from both Meteigner and his chef, Patrick Ponsaty, who lists restaurants in the south of France on his resume. Maybe in the rush to open before the end of the year, the menu didn't get as much attention as it should have. I'm hoping this restaurant will come together in the new year.

BE THERE

Bistrot Provencal, 829 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 360-9064. Open daily for dinner (with the exception of today). Valet parking. Starters $5.50 to $8.50; pastas $13 to $14.50; main course $15.50 to $17.

* MORE TO CHEW ON: A conversation about dining trends with Campanile's co-owner, Nancy Silverton. Page 58.

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