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A California-French Link Hidden Amid Usual Chains

Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

January 04, 2001|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Along the boulevard in Studio City, strip malls grab passersby with the lure of the familiar chain restaurants. A small independent restaurant, however good, can easily get lost unless enough people go out of their way to find it. But still restaurateurs keep trying.

A couple of blocks east of the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Ventura boulevards, Thomas Munoz, late of Joe Joe's in Sherman Oaks, has launched Emmanuel in the storefront recently vacated by the Perroche. Before Joe Joe's, Munoz worked with Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant in Venice. Munoz's sensibility is very much like Miller's. He goes for clean California-French cooking with an emphasis on fresh ingredients at an appealing quality-price ratio. In addition to the a la carte menu, he also offers two four-course prix fixe menus nightly.

Recently, my $30 menu began with a lovely heap of greens garnished with crisp bacon and soft nuggets of goat cheese in a piquant dressing. Then came an inviting potato and roasted garlic soup smoothed with a touch of cream. The main course was a beautiful piece of fresh salmon, slow-roasted to an almost custardy consistency, with a wonderfully delicate flavor. A grainy creme bru^lee was the only disappointment.

The a la carte side of the menu has some enticing picks, too. And since entrees are all under $20, Emmanuel could do a brisk weekday supper business. Try the round wild mushroom ravioli in a splash of chervil broth to start, or the graceful watercress salad with beets, pears and hazelnuts. Rib-eye is a good bet, too, well-matched with a gratin of potatoes laced with Fourme d'Ambert, a French blue cheese.

Emmanuel's service is a strong suit. Helpful waiters keep things on track, leaving Munoz free to man the stoves in back. No lunch as yet, but that could change if enough people pass up the bright lights for this demure newcomer.

* Emmanuel, 11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 766-3128. Open Monday through Saturday for dinner only. Appetizers, $5 to $9; main courses, $15 to $19: four-course prix-fixe menus, $30 and $38. Valet parking (enter through the alley at the back).

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