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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Maui Beach Cafe Gives the Tropics a High-Tech Twist

September 24, 1998|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

I've never been one to haul myself off to Hawaii and loll on the beach for vacation, so maybe, I thought to myself, I don't have a proper appreciation for Hawaiian food. Which is why I decided to try Maui Beach Cafe in Westwood, where Mako Segawa-Gonzales, a protege of Roy Yamaguchi, is cooking tropical-inspired fare.

In the heart of Westwood Village, and catering largely to a UCLA crowd, the place looks like a high-tech tropical outpost with a humpback whale suspended over the gleaming stainless-steel open kitchen, realistic-looking palm trees leaning over the tables and TV monitors playing surfing scenes of the endless summer.

The specials, in fact, come in the guise of a "surf report," which thoughtfully lists on the back all the plays, concerts, films and museum shows and other goings-on in the neighborhood. Just when I'm thinking a little Hawaiian slack guitar might mesh nicely with the theme decor, the sound system cranks up with the kind of indeterminate funk you hear all over Westwood.

The food, however, hews closely to the Maui theme. How could I resist a pupu platter? It's better than most, though everything is lukewarm. Tea-smoked duck pot-stickers have a nice smoky edge. Baby back ribs with guava hoisin glaze are decent, and the spring rolls have an appealing texture. Everything we order seems to be sweet, though, from coconut-crusted shrimp and the thin grilled pork chop perfumed with star anise to my "Fiery Dragon" noodles and the macadamia nut-encrusted swordfish with fresh banana salsa. And while all the dishes sound exotic, they taste, mostly, like gussied-up sweet-and-sour. A lot of people like that taste: I'm just not one of them.

What do you order to finish off a Hawaiian meal? Dark chocolate lava cake, that's what. Now I'm thinking, to get the full experience, maybe I should have gone with the "new wave" Hawaiian pizza topped with char sui pork and caramelized pineapple.

I'll save that for next time.

BE THERE

Maui Beach Cafe, 1019 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 209-0494. Open for lunch (or brunch on the weekends) and dinner daily. Parking on street and in public lot. Appetizers $7 to $10; main courses $9 to $20.

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