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Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

How to Beat the Crowds, Enjoy the Food

March 08, 2001|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Fridays and Saturdays, most restaurants are packed. No problem for restaurant owners. But what about the slower weekday and Sunday nights? Restaurateurs are discovering they can draw a crowd on those problematic nights with special prix fixe (fixed price) menus at more modest prices.

Not only does it fill the restaurant, it's also a terrific way to introduce their cooking to restaurant-goers out of the special occasion format. It also means people who love a restaurant can afford to eat there more often.

The appeal is not only economic. On these special nights, the atmosphere often is more unbuttoned, and regulars tend to show up with lots of friends and family in tow. It's festive and fun.

Some places, such as Campanile and Alto Palato, have been offering special menu nights for a while, but more restaurants are joining in. Check this page for updates.

Meanwhile, here's a roundup of some of the more appealing options. Prices are per person and do not include tax and tip.

Mondays

The long-running family night at Campanile features a different dish each week. It could be bollito misto, tapas, cassoulet or Southern fried chicken. Next week it happens to be grilled bluefish. A price of $35 gets you a three-course meal served family-style for the entire table. It's generous and festive, in short, what a family-style meal should be, and includes one of Nancy Silverton's fabulous desserts. Campanile, 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 938-1447.

Wednesdays

Vida in Los Feliz offers a four-course menu for "the friendly neighborhood price" of $21. Why Wednesday? Because that's when Fred Eric visits the Santa Monica Farmers Market and makes up the menu on the spot. This is what he served last week: Joy Luck Club (a warm sweet-potato noodle salad with baby blue crab), Porcini Anglitooti (fresh-made anglitootes--whatever those are--with porcini Cabernet reduction) and a lemon thyme zabaglione, Charley the Chicken (as in seared sesame chicken in ginger-soy broth) with Asian veggies and "plenty of rice." And there's dessert: crepes with orange, almonds, ice cream, and most importantly "etc." Add $8 and he'll match it with wines. Vida, 1930 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 660-4446. By reservation only.

For close to three years now, Alto Palato in West Hollywood has offered a menu from a different Italian region each Wednesday night for $25. Next week the kitchen will visit Sicily with arancini (fried rice balls filled with peas, veal, onions, tomato and saffron), pasta alla Norma (that's spaghetti sauced with eggplant, provolone, tomato and sweet basil), followed by stewed rabbit with capers, raisins, pine nuts and olives. Plus, if you order the menu, you get 40% off the wine list when you buy wine by the bottle. Which means you can afford to drink up. Alto Palato, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-9271

Thursdays

Until Gino Angelini, who just left Vincenti to pursue his own restaurant, finds a new home, on Thursday nights he's cooking a three-course ($42) menu at Alto Palato. Tonight it's cardoon soup with chicken meatballs, vegetable ravioli in a shrimp and orange sauce, veal casserole with crispy wild mushrooms, and a sweet pastry with zabaione and balsamic vinegar. (See Wednesday for address/phone.)

Sundays

At The House in Hollywood, Scooter Kanfer writes her three-course Sunday dinner menu ($30) the Thursdays before. Last week's offered a choice of deviled eggs or her dad's favorite salad (baby red Bibb lettuce with crispy bacon, vidalia onions, hard-cooked eggs, and Maytag blue cheese dressing) to start, then chicken and dumplings with Meyer lemon and roasted garlic au jus or pan-roasted black bass with marinated beets and potatoes and a horseradish creme frai^che, and for dessert, chocolate malted po^t de creme. The House, 5750 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; (323) 462-4687.

Sunday supper at Lucques is a relaxed affair with two choices for appetizer and entree, though everybody gets the same dessert. Call on Thursday for the menu. Last week, Suzanne Goin cooked roasted beet salad with beluga lentils and horseradish creme frai^che, followed by either seared gulf shrimp with green garlic, roasted tomato and aioli toast or grilled beef tri-tip with crispy potatoes, roasted shallots and gorgonzola butter. Dessert was chocolate cream puffs with caramel sauce. Lucques, 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 655-6277. Reserve ahead.

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