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On the Bayou in Silver Lake

Cirxa has an offbeat but homey vibe befitting its Nawleans-inspired menu.

August 17, 2000|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cirxa. I have no idea what the name means, but it has a mysterious, raffishly artistic sound, and that suits this oddball little Louisianan restaurant in Silver Lake. The room is painted with French Quarter wrought-iron patterns, and it serves a fine New Orleans beer called Blackened Voodoo.

The food is very reasonably priced and generally pretty good, though the appetizers wouldn't be my reason for coming. The place does make decent fried chicken wings with a tangy hot sauce and a big spinach salad sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds. But its hush puppies, marble-sized balls of deep-fried cornmeal, are a bit dry and ought to be more flavorful. (Oddly, there are crab cakes exactly the same size as the hush puppies, and they could be a little more flavorful too.)

The best starter I've had didn't even pretend to be Southern. It was a soup of the day, a cooling, tomato-free gazpacho that reminded me of all the Middle Eastern dishes of cucumbers in yogurt.

With the entrees, the menu starts to get interesting. The chicken and seafood gumbo has a good poetic aroma of roux, celery and bell pepper, and it's well-stocked with chicken, spicy beef sausage and crab claws. It comes in two sizes, the larger being more than enough for most appetites, and in a tofu version for vegetarians.

Etouffee also comes in two sizes with a vegetarian option. It might be what an earlier Cirxa menu called creole succotash--corn, fresh tomatoes and beef sausage on rice. It has a good, homey Louisiana flavor.

*

The Creole meatloaf is pretty much like my mother's meatloaf, down to the tasty ketchup "frosting" that reduces until it's almost solid. There seem to be some pecans lurking here and there in this meatloaf, along with onions and bell peppers.

In Louisiana, barbecued shrimp are actually sauteed in a spicy butter and garlic sauce. Here, though, the barbecued shrimp come in a dark, grainy sauce with a touch of chocolate in it--mole poblano sauce, in fact. So this is not barbecued shrimp by anybody else's definition (and despite what the menu says, they aren't jumbo shrimp), but it's enjoyable in a fusion-ish way.

Cirxa blackens red snapper or catfish, and serves it either with remoulade sauce (or, as a merry waitress explained it, "tartar sauce, but we call it remoulade"). It makes baby back ribs, evidently baked in an oven and tender enough. The honey-chipotle sauce that comes with them is probably the most artless, homey thing here; it seems to be just tomato sauce, honey and some smoky chipotles simmered together for a couple of hours.

By contrast, the special entrees (which are most likely to show up on Friday and Saturday) can be well above the homey level. One night the special entree was medallions of tenderloin with five peppercorns--three very tender rounds of steak in a strong, dark red wine reduction flavored with (in fact, slightly crunchy from) ground peppercorns. I imagine there were black and white peppercorns involved, but the flavors of green and pink were more prominent. This was the only time I've ever had a French-style steak with collard greens.

The collards are outstanding, by the way, flavorful and not bitter, with no sauce to cover any sins. Cirxa also makes a good potato salad (big chunks, a sour cream and green onion dressing) and good garlic mashed potatoes. All entrees except gumbo and etouffee automatically come with two sides.

Of course, I hadn't ordered collards with my steak--I'd ordered biscuits. Sometimes there are little slips like that here. Hey, one is in Silver Lake.

Desserts include a rather dense bread pudding, served in pie-type wedges, topped with chocolate bits and fresh caramel sauce, a decent peach cobbler (if the waiter doesn't get it to your table in time, the ice cream will melt and turn it into a peach pudding) and a very good banana layer cake with white chocolate frosting. One night they were out of the cake and offered apple pie instead. It had an elusive sweet spice scent that summed up Cirxa's mysterious, cozy, serendipitous quality.

BE THERE

Cirxa Cafe, 3719 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 663-1048. Dinner 6-11 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; closed Monday. Beer and wine. Parking lot in rear. Takeout available after 3 p.m. All major cards. Dinner for two, $29 to $56. What to Get: chicken and seafood gumbo, etouffee, creole meatloaf, barbecued shrimp, collards, potato salad, white chocolate banana layer cake.

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