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Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

Rooms Look Good, but Kitchen Should Get Its Ducz in a Row

October 26, 2000|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

It took me two tries to pry the phone number of Ducz, a new Pasadena restaurant, from411--and I already knew the name (pronounced "ducks") had an eccentric spelling. Imagine all of Pasadena, let alone the dyslexics among us, trying to remember which way those letters twist!

This new Asian-California restaurant from Parkway Grill owners Bob and Gregg Smith has moved into the old Abiento space on Lake Street near Green Street. But that's not why it looks so familiar. A Pasadena friend clued me in: The interior was done by the same designer who gave Arroyo Chophouse its distinctive look. (That steakhouse is also owned by the Smiths, making the brothers the Pasadena equivalent of Wolfgang Puck.)

Its glassed-in wine cellar, Asian art and waiters in long black aprons give Ducz the look of a sleek Asian bistro. We were seated in the smaller of the two dining rooms, the Zen room, which looks out onto the patio garden where a boisterous party was in full swing that night. Our waiter, believe it or not, was Karma. I didn't, however, ask her how she spelled it.

Ducz's chef, Fred Iwasaki, cooked at both Chinois and Zenzero in Santa Monica, and his menu definitely reflects that experience. The appetizers are called First Flavors, just as they are at Chinois. That should have been the clue that they're served family-style. Somehow we missed the note at the top of the menu. Fried calamari arrives in a dish as big as a birdbath, garnished with potato chips around the rim and a halo of grated daikon. My hamachi sashimi with yuzu-sesame vinaigrette could have easily fed two or three. And the roll your own sushi plate is big enough for four, though our amateur sushi chef took so long to roll each piece of sushi, we would have all gone hungry if we hadn't ordered anything else.

Some of the dishes sound like Chinois', such as the warm curried oysters, Shanghai lobster or the sizzling catfish in ponzu sauce, but they're not executed to the same standard and, in the end, hardly resemble the originals. I'm having a hard time understanding what Iwasaki is trying to do. Here's a guy who could once cook Chinois dishes blindfolded, yet he seems to have lost his bearings here. Ducz's food is more Chinois crossed with Parkway Grill, taking on that restaurant's penchant for lakes of sauce, giant portions and "the more the merrier" aesthetic in terms of ingredients. Sichuan beef comes drowning in gravy (and without a trace of heat). Seared rare tuna looks as if it's intended to feed an Olympic discus thrower. And every other plate is topped with a wad of grated daikon.

The place is good-looking and diner-friendly. Maybe it's just going to take awhile for the kitchen to find its focus.

*

BE THERE

Ducz, 110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 792-9999; fax (626) 792-9877. Appetizers $11 to $24; main courses $19 to $33. Open for lunch weekdays; for dinner daily. Valet parking.

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