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Asian enthusiasm

Offerings at Citrine are bold and inventive, but not all of its experiments succeed.

September 11, 2003|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Seated at a comfy table at Citrine, the contemporary pan-Asian restaurant that has moved into the old Jozu space, I watch a server reconfigure the tabletop, moving glasses 2 inches to the left, butter 3 1/2 inches to the right, lining up bread plates along the edge.

All this fussing is in the service of clearing enough space for the huge, really huge plates that hold the first couple of appetizers. Understated simply is not part of chef David Slatkin's vocabulary. His last job, at Morton's down the street, didn't give him much leeway, and now that he's got it he's running with it.

This new West Hollywood restaurant is dressed up in Asian accents and a soothing palate of neutrals. Of course there are orchids. Of course there is a sushi bar to the right of the open kitchen, where a crowd of cooks waits for the orders to come in. The waiters wear chef's jackets, too, leading to some confusion as to who's who.

The first bite is important and this night the amuse is intriguing: a single lobster gyoza, or dumpling. Appetizers fill two pages, one from the sushi bar, one from the regular kitchen. (A full sushi menu is available at the tables by request as well.) A pair of jalapeno tempura are stuffed to bursting with a spicy shrimp filling. They're covered in a filigree of pale batter, and the plate is scribbled over with a spicy mayonnaise. A sashimi roll of five kinds of fish rolled up with cucumbers and asparagus is lovely both to look at and to eat.

A wild mushroom and sake bisque that comes in an asymmetrical bowl is so rich, it seems more sauce than soup. The garnish is spring rolls stuffed with braised veal cheek, an idea pretty much guaranteed to garner the attention of any foodies out there. Unfortunately, they're limp and not improved by strong Cabrales cheese crumbled over the top. Seared scallops are served in a conga line with svelte Asian dumplings stuffed with Manchego and arugula. I don't have the courage quite yet to try the roast shallot and hazelnut tamale with duck confit and black mission fig chutney.

Grouper is the new fish around town. The fish itself has a fine flavor, and here Slatkin cooks it wrapped in banana leaves and serves it with crispy oysters and an irresistible coconut rice spiked with rum. Wild white salmon gets a blood orange-miso glaze that completely overwhelms its delicate flavor.

There's also baby chicken on a cedar plank, beef filet crusted with marrow, and for the vegetarians among us, a roasted summer vegetable "sausage."

Slatkin was the opening chef at Mojo in the West Los Angeles-Westwood area, so it's no surprise the tropical flavors of coconut, plantain, hearts of palm and avocado are woven through Citrine's menu -- sometimes, though, with more enthusiasm than good sense.

*

Citrine

Where: 8360 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood

When: Dinner daily, 6-10 p.m. (until 11 on Friday and Saturday). Valet parking.

Cost: Sushi appetizers, $14 to $25; appetizers, $9 to $19; main courses, $17 to $34; desserts, $6 to $9

Info: (323) 655-1690

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