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Charting a New Course

May 23, 1999|S. Irene Virbila

Iin the latest overhaul of dominick's in West Hollywood, Fred Eric is doing the supper club thing. The eccentric talent behind Vida and Fred 62 in Los Feliz, Eric got his start cooking for the club scene, at Flaming Colossus and Olive, where he sent out weird-looking dishes that sometimes tasted remarkably good, and then at the Lipp, where he toyed with even more elaborate food presentation. Now, with his plans for a steakhouse called Jeeves having fallen through, Eric has teamed up with Jon Sidel (a former partner in Olive) to do steaks at Dominick's.

This doesn't mean that Eric is in the kitchen every night (he's there about half the week), but he has masterminded the menu. Emphasizing the supper more than the club, it's filled with his trademark whimsy. "The Jonathan Frederic Yacht Club specials" includes dishes dubbed Tra La La Salad and Wild Wild Bass. Vegetables are "sidecars." And for dessert, there's the S.S. Wonka.

The nautical theme started with the decor. Designer Fred Sutherland (he did the retro coffee shop Fred 62) really knows how to spin a look. Originally, Dominick's was one of those old-time hangouts where regulars could drink their Scotch and carve their steaks in the dark, cozy interior. After founder Dominick Mazzie died in the mid-'80s, the place closed, reopened and changed hands several times before Sidel rescued it.

Today, the little restaurant is as shipshape as a pleasure boat, the ceiling painted a glossy green set off by warm-toned wood walls and diners snug in the curvaceous green leather booths. The crowd is a mix of women in heavy mascara and the young and very with-it perched at the bar to sip martinis. I'd love this place if the noise level didn't make conversation impossible. Fortunately, there's an outdoor patio, complete with a fireplace and wooden garden chairs.

The food has its ups and downs, but mostly it's much better than you'd expect at such a trendy venue. (I've had better meals on busy weekends than on quieter weekdays.) The best starter is Captain's Calamari, a heap of golden fried calamari spilling from a folded brown paper bag. The Caesar of romaine hearts has a timid dressing, and I poke through the lobster chopped salad before I find a few lobster morsels drowned in a bland buttermilk dressing. That Tra La La Salad is barely dressed greens with roasted peppers and fried artichoke stuffed with goat cheese. My favorite, though, is Mac Daddy and Cheese, a casserole of incredibly rich macaroni with cream, mild cheese and a blast of pasilla chile.

Supper at Dominick's is big plates of hearty food. One night, there's a special of meaty prime ribs and mashed potatoes that come with the corn already mixed in, the way kids like it. The green beans are fabulous, too. When I try the West Indies seafood stew, the broth is so delicious that I wish there were more of it. As it is, mussels, shrimp, clams and rock lobster are marooned atop "dirty" rice revved up with hot pepper. The dry-aged prime New York steak arrives more medium than medium rare; on another night, when two of us decide to share the Porterhouse, not only do we get virtually tasteless meat, but, to add insult to injury, we're charged $5 extra for a split even though we divide the steak ourselves. The charred yet rare double-cut roasted rack of lamb is a more reliable bet. So is the delicate cedar-planked Atlantic salmon, which is also served very rare.

For dessert, skip the awful key lime creme brulee and hard cookies and go for the S.S. Wonka, a wacky construction of chocolate waffle and banana dipped in delicious dark chocolate, with caramel and marshmallows on a skewer flagpole.

When it's good, Fred Eric's eccentric food can be very good. When it isn't, it's as unsatisfying as a joke that falls flat. Perhaps if this chef ever gets serious and starts thinking more about the way his dishes taste than the way they look, we'll eat great things at Dominick's.

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DOMINICK'S

CUISINE: Eccentric American. AMBIENCE: Nautical-themed supper club with young, trendy crowd and outdoor patio with fireplace. BEST DISHES: Captain's Calamari, Mac Daddy and Cheese, rack of lamb, cedar-planked salmon, S.S. Wonka. WINE PICKS: 1997 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio, Friuli; 1995 Ruffino Ducale Riserva Chianti, Tuscany. FACTS: 8715 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-7272. Dinner Monday through Saturday. Appetizers, $6 to $14; main courses, $14 to $32. Corkage $10. Valet parking.

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