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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Taking Five

A quintet of menus at Connolly's caters to customers' need to sit down, get cozy and sample from an eclectic array of meals.

July 09, 1998|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's so strange about Connolly's? Certainly not the decor. You have your Westside-type split-level space. You have your green-shaded halogen lamps strung from a zigzag of wires in the ceiling.

But the colors are subdued, as is the art on the walls--tiny photos in big frames. And the noise level never really builds to a general din. On top of all this, you sit on comfortable sofa-style banquettes sprinkled with throw pillows.

It's hip, but it's . . . cozy.

In fact, it seems downright English. Proprietor John Connolly (Irish though his ancestry may be) addresses the diners as "sir" and "madame" with nothing like the breezy, chummy air of a California waiter--that is, assuming a California waiter would say "sir" or "madame" at all.

So here's what's so strange about Connolly's. It's a cozy, tasteful, English sort of place with a wildly eclectic menu. Or rather, five menus (though you don't have to stick with them--you can mix and match a la carte): Latin American (usually Mexican), Indian, Californian, American and spa.

Connolly has a background in catering, where you do have to be able to whip out a credible version of anything the customer asks for. Still, those five menus (the dishes on which change every two weeks) represent an ambitious variety of styles, and the price is a certain wobbliness. I wouldn't hesitate to order the spa or American menus, or any of the pastries, but also I wouldn't be surprised by some faintly odd notes elsewhere.

You start out with a chunky caponata, heavy on the olives. Believe it or not, though Connolly's is on the Westside (true, not a fashionable part of the Westside), this was nearly the last Italian reference in anything I had here.

The week I ordered it, the Indian menu began with a nice moist crab and shrimp cake in a cilantro sauce with a little curry tang to it. Accompanying it was a bit of cabbage salad in a light, sweet dressing; good World Cuisine stuff.

Then came a mild but authentic chicken curry on a pilaf mixed with an extraordinarily generous array of vegetables: peas, carrots and diced potatoes (the potatoes seemed much too starchy for pilaf, though). In a charming touch, half a dozen tiny cherry tomatoes were arranged on the plate. The exotic dessert was a crisp cookie with some pistachio paste and a cardamom-scented creme anglaise.

The California Cuisine menu started out with fried red and yellow tomato slices sandwiching some pesto, all in a pale orange tomato-cream (mostly cream) sauce. It was pleasant but made me think of an English tea room rather than California.

In fact, apart from some grilled asparagus, the California menu was scarcely Californian at all. The beautifully cooked salmon was topped with a luscious spinach puree strongly flavored with nutmeg, and the dessert was the Australian specialty called pavlova: a meringue cup filled with strawberries and cream.

The spa dinner appetizer was a mixed green salad on a bed of fresh beet puree, which had a subtle radish-like sharpness to it. It was a little like getting salad on your borscht, but it grew on me. The puttanesca sauce on the whitefish that followed it might have looked thin, but it was tangy and satisfying, full of capers and stewed onions. And the dessert was flawless: mango, lemon and chocolate sorbets with raspberry sauce and chocolate-covered wafers.

The Mexican menu opened with a rather thin pozole that worked perfectly well as a light soup. The three chiles rellenos that followed were based on definitely hot peppers and a distractingly bitter sauce. The cheese and chicken fillings were OK, though I wasn't convinced by the mashed potato filling. The dessert was one of the most enjoyable here--a coconut-pecan "cake" like a thick, chewy nut cookie in a lot of dark chocolate sauce.

The American menu turned out to be the best. The spinach salad (with plenty of bacon and some diced mangoes) was excellent; the crumbly, slightly tomatoey meatloaf was tasty (a dark brown, almost black sauce didn't do much for or against it). And the cake, dark chocolate with layers of milk chocolate filling, was extravagantly good.

I guess it makes sense that Connolly does such a good job on American comfort foods. They're . . . you know, cozy.

BE THERE

Connolly's Restaurant, 11510 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 479-2133. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays though Fridays; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. No alcoholic beverages. Valet parking. Visa and MasterCard. Takeout. Dinner for two, food only $56 to $60.

What to Get: crab and shrimp cake, spinach salad, pozole, whitefish puttanesca, meatloaf, coconut-pecan cake, sorbets.

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