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A sauce by any other name ...

March 12, 2003|Leslee Komaiko,Valli Herman-Cohen

SO long sauce. Hello emulsion. Puree. Foam.

Menus around town seem to be missing that simple S-word, a word very familiar to diners.

The menu at Sona, David and Michelle Myers' stylish new restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard, features dishes with ginger ponzu, chai foam, rabbit reduction, watercress and shellfish broth, chicken-olive oil jus, curry leaf jus, celery root puree and maple emulsion. The word "sauce" does not appear.

"I think people think of a sauce as being perhaps heavy or basic, something that relates to old school," says David Myers. "When I refer to one of the things we do as a jus, it's much lighter than a heavy sauce."

At Traxx in downtown L.A., the menu lists dishes served with fig emulsion, coriander vinaigrette, caramelized onion jus, tarragon-Merlot demi-glace and wild mushroom Bolognese.

"I definitely wouldn't say [sauce] is a bad word," says Traxx chef-owner Tara Thomas. She just avoids it so that the menu doesn't sound redundant.

In the kitchen it's another story. "When we're thinking about the components for a new dish we talk about protein, vegetable, starch and sauce. But once we're ready to write the menu description, we assign the sauce its appropriate name."

Some of the name game, of course, is marketing and making a menu look more interesting, says Ezra Eichelberger, associate professor of menu development at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. By not using the word "sauce," chefs are "sometimes being more accurate with their descriptions," he says.

But, he says, "some restaurants will add that pretense so they can charge $2 more for that item."

Chefs say that diners are sophisticated enough to know the differences among their sauces, and that they might as well describe them as what they truly are.

"We're able to use terms like 'jus' and 'reduction' with much more abandon," Myers says. (For the record, "jus" is simply French for "juice" and "reduction" generally refers to a liquid that has been boiled down to concentrate its flavor.)

As for Myers' assertion that sauce is "old school," consider the menu at Santa Monica's Marquis West, which has been serving French and Italian classics for 26 years. A quick scan of the menu reveals rich creamy sauce, white or red sauce, zesty wine sauce, spicy Italian sauce, garlic sauce, lemon sauce and white wine sauce.

"This is a down-to-earth place," says chef Pietro Giordano. "There is no point to give fancy names to sauce. My point is to make a sauce that's good."

And let's not forget the Gamberoni Marquis, the restaurant's signature dish of butterflied prawns in -- you guessed it -- special sauce.

-- Leslee Komaiko

*

Small bites

* Grace, 7360 Beverly Blvd. (former site of Muse), Los Angeles, takes its name from the daughter of executive chef Neal Fraser. Serving seasonal new American cuisine in a relaxed, stylish setting, Fraser and partners Amy Knoll, Richard Drapkin and Brooks Townsend offer fresh takes on mussels, fish and even roasted parsnips at the 2-week-old restaurant.

* EM Bistro, 8256 Beverly Blvd. (former site of Atlantic), Los Angeles, is the work of chef-owners Anne Conness (of Alex, Water Grill, Saddle Peak Lodge and Campanile) and pastry chef Natasha MacAller (of Union, Campanile). The casual eatery offers a mix of creative combinations (wasabi tuna salad with mango, avocado and Maui onions) as well as steak, spinach and homemade potato chips.

-- Valli Herman-Cohen

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