Many tables at Karl Strauss Brewery Garden have "Blade Runner" vistas of the CityWalk promenade, but the decor combines high-tech with nostalgia--slate paneling and diva lights under Craftsman-style eaves. The effect is a touch sterile, maybe, but it's a comfortable refuge from the general CityWalk madness.
The place is a brew pub and always has six handmade beers on tap. The rich amber lager and the malty, properly bitter Pilsener are both good, and the Christmas ale, brewed for the holiday season, has real body.
The eclectic menu, though, is a classic example of reach exceeding grasp. The best choices tend to be the simplest: a juicy cheddar burger, good garlic rosemary French fries and the like.
But the grilled sausage sampler would be better without the fancy presentation. You get a nice pork sausage, a spicy andouille and a chicken sausage, served on a skewer with onions, peppers and a nice array of mustards. But the sausages are sliced thin and served on skewers, so they dry out.
As for the lobster tacos Veracruz, a friend said, "I guess there's lobster in here someplace," digging through the tomatoes and corn in her casserole dish. Eventually, she fished out one or two chunks of lobster meat, overpowered by a lot of cumin and tomato.
The spicy "red trolley" chili isn't bad, though not really very spicy. It's topped with tortilla strips and has a nice, fresh flavor. The huge "signature" chopped salad--enough for four--mixes lots of turkey and bacon with greens and a bland buttermilk dressing. The best sandwich is probably pork loin with portabello mushrooms, caramelized onion and a spicy-sweet mustard dipping sauce. The meat is tender enough, and the sandwich goes perfectly with an ice-cold beer.
The main dishes are big but not very flavorful. Bangkok barbecued chicken is a whole grilled breast served with two sauces, hoisin-peanut and sesame-soy; the meat tends to be overcooked, and the sauces need more punch. Our flame-grilled Atlantic salmon was overcooked, and the accompanying basmati rice was all stuck together, not fluffy at all.
The best dessert is chocolate on tap--a warm, fudgy brownie topped with sticky praline sauce, dark chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and some overly aerated whipped cream. Uncle Karl's Bavarian apple pie, though, is a a gluey, over-sweet apple crisp. (My uncle? I thought he was your uncle.)
Karl Strauss Brewery Garden, 1000 Universal Center Drive, Universal City. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday. Valet and self-parking. Full bar. All major cards. Dinner for two, $27-$43. Suggested dishes: garlic rosemary fries, $3.95; natural cheddar burger, $7.95; pork loin sandwich, $8.95; chocolate on tap, $5.95. Call (818) 753-2739.