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Critic's Notebook

At Jar, Comfort Cuisine Fills the Eclectic Menu

September 27, 2001|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

He's been thinking about it for years. Now Campanile's chef and co-owner, Mark Peel, has finally gone and done it. Peel and chef-partner Suzanne Tracht have opened an American chophouse on the site of the late Indochine in Los Angeles at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Harper Avenue. Tracht worked with Peel as Campanile's chef de cuisine and was the original chef at Jozu in West Hollywood, where the petite brunet turned her hand to stylish Asian fusion.

Gone are the elegant Indo-European decor, the plantation shutters and potted palms, the fashionistas and the sinuous waiters in black. The new 90-seat dining room has been pared down to its bones. The decor consists of expanses of pale citron wall and dozens of curvy molded plastic chairs with aluminum stick legs. A handful of booths fits along one wall. The renovation is so new, you can still smell the wet paint. And although the designers have opened up the windows to let daylight in, Jar won't be serving lunch until October.

The menu opens like a three-way mirror, drinks to the left, first courses and mains down the middle, sides on the right. First off, try the fried Ipswich clams in a newspaper lined container with both a handmade tartar sauce and a spunky horseradish-dosed cocktail sauce on the side. These are bona fide East Coast clams, dusted in cornmeal and fried to a deep gold, and so irresistibly chewy and flavorful, we had to order another batch. A corn chowder with diced potatoes and bacon is sweet enough to stand in as dessert. There's a beautiful French green bean salad of skinny haricots verts with chanterelle mushrooms and rosy Parma ham tossed in a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

On a night when a little comfort is in order, what could be better than an old-fashioned pot roast that has given all its beefy goodness to the broth? Oddly, this, like all the main courses, is served on its own with nary a carrot or boiled potato. Applesauce, creamed spinach and other vegetables, or a potato dish, have to be ordered separately. What do you want? The potatoes Anna. Cooked and served in a small iron skillet, the cake of thinly sliced potato rounds is gilded with sweet butter and melting tender at the center: fabulous. You also want the greens sauteed with a splash of vinegar.

Other than pot roast, the bone-in New York city strip, the double Porterhouse (all of 32 ounces for two) or the rack of New Zealand lamb are good choices. For those who don't eat red meat, Tracht offers broiled monkfish cheeks or halibut, plus the occasional seafood special. Whatever your persuasion, bring an appetite: These portions are big.

For dessert, you'll surely want the ice cream sundae, which comes with two pitchers of sauce: a buttery burnt sugar caramel and a dark chocolate.

While the wine list doesn't begin to compete with the one at Campanile, it does offer some interesting and eclectic bottles from Austria and Santa Ynez Valley to Alto Adige and Chablis. The bar purports to make a Perfect Manhattan. If that's so, I'm getting it. Next time.

*

Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 655-6566; fax (323) 655-6577; http://www.thejar.com. Open for dinner nightly. Appetizers, $7 to $14; main courses, $19 to $30; sides, $4 to $7. Corkage, $20. Valet parking.

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