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A Charming French Throwback

Traditional Cafe Beaujolais in Eagle Rock has a neighborhood feel and a menu that mostly could be from a restaurant 30 years ago.

January 10, 2002|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cafe Beaujolais is the sort of neighborhood French restaurant every neighborhood ought to have. It's charming and unpretentious, with a grapevine pattern stenciled high on its pale yellow walls, and boy, are the baguettes fresh. It has its very own bakery right up the street, Beaujolais Boulangerie.

The cafe is very much a neighborhood place. It features live music some nights, and the musicians aren't names--they're usually local Eagle Rockers.

For the most part, the menu could be from a French restaurant 30 years ago: escargots, onion soup, pork Vallee d'Auge.

The onion soup has a slightly sweet beef broth and a lot of cheese. The soup of the day will be based on pureed vegetables; one night it was a subtle veloute flavored with zucchini and mushrooms.

As for the escargots, they're tender and flavorful, with plenty of garlic butter. The tres moderne pate (there's a turkey version as well as pork) is flavored with parsley--and it's served hot, like some kind of light, crumbly meatloaf, with baby greens on the side.

The Caesar salad is a middle-of-the-road version, although the dressing is rather thick with ground Parmesan. The goat cheese salad is greens garnished with hot, nearly melting goat cheese on baguette rounds: a real mouth-filler.

The prettiest salad, and the most refreshing, is crab meat with peeled red and pink grapefruit sections.

Entrees come with a sort of potato gratin, a cake of zucchini bound with egg, a hash of sweet peppers and half a baked tomato. They tend to be tasteful and low-key.

In fact, Cafe Beaujolais ought to be the ideal restaurant for people who like to complain about dishes being "drowned" in sauce, because the quantity of sauce can usually be measured in teaspoons. With the rack of lamb (four dainty grilled chops), you get a little pool of meaty brown sauce espagnole. The pork chop Vallee d'Auge comes in just a bit of apple-scented cream sauce. The supreme de poulet au basilic is a chicken breast fried brown with mushrooms and basil wedged under the first joint of a wing. It's served with a smidgen of Port sauce and some chopped tomatoes.

There's no sauce on the steak grille, but it makes a bold display: It's a round steak pounded until it's as broad as a dinner plate but only about an eighth of an inch thick. Tender and just medium rare, though with ostentatious grill marks, it fans out like a giant butterfly on a plate piled high with French fries and a few bits of diced tomato.

The most interesting fish I've had was a special of escolar, which played off its rich flesh with a fennel-scented cream sauce. The other fish dishes seemed to take this simplicity thing a little too far. Although the fish was always perfectly cooked, I didn't get much from the cream sauce on the salmon, and there was scarcely any of the advertised balsamic vinegar on the pave of rare albacore.

After this, it's surprising to find so much chocolate sauce swirling around the pear tart, but nobody ever seems to complain about drowning in chocolate sauce. In fact, the desserts may be the best part of the meal--a devastating dark chocolate mousse, a lemon mousse that is really more like a squat cylinder of luscious lemon curd on a cookie, occasional special pastries from the bakery.

You can also eat up the street at the bakery, although the menu there is limited to soups, salads, sandwiches and pastries. Apart from croque-monsieur, they're pretty much like American sandwiches plus a little basil. Take the turkey breast: It has a sweet, clean taste abetted by the freshness of the baguette bread.

You might consider two reasons for choosing the bakery over the cafe: (1) It's open all day. (2) Breads and pastries to go.

* Cafe Beaujolais, 1712 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 255-5111. Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Wine and beer. Street parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, $36 to $58.

What to Get: pate, escargots, salade au fromage de chevre chaud, grapefruit with crab, pork Vallee d'Auge, steak grille, rack of lamb, pear tart, lemon mousse, chocolate mousse.

* Beaujolais Boulangerie, 1661 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 255-5133. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. No alcohol. Street parking. All major cards. Lunch for two, food only, $9 to $20.

What to Get: turkey breast sandwich, pastries.

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