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RESTAURANTS / SECOND LOOK

Ward off the outside world with garlic

December 06, 2007|Jessica Gelt

ONCE you've quaffed a garlic martini at the Stinking Rose, the sticky, spicy tickle of pickled garlic juice refuses to budge from the top of your tongue. That same stubborn staying power extends to the restaurant as well.

More than 12 years after opening on Beverly Hills' restaurant row and receiving a scorching review from The Times, the kitschy, garlic-themed restaurant has become an institution. Families hold birthday parties in the private room beside the bar; couples hold hands in cabanas along "garlic-lover's lane"; industry types carouse in a grotto-like vampire dwelling lorded over by a life-size Dracula; engagements are celebrated in a Sistine Chapel room with a wall painted to resemble Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam."

The motto on the menu is "We season our garlic with food," but the resulting dishes are not nearly so extreme. Garlic meatloaf, roasted rabbit in garlic sauce and garlic-braised short ribs are only slightly stinky and the greasy bagna calda (garlic in a hot bath of olive oil and butter) is mild and gooey. For the most part, the entrees are heavy, rich and a bit clumsy, but the food isn't really the point.

The Stinking Rose works because it is its own private, smelly universe. Once enveloped by the heavily draped interior and the slightly sweet, slightly acrid scent of garlic and oil, it's hard to imagine the world of Los Angeles outside.

"When people come in, they look around like they're in a museum," says General Manager Massimo Marmorino. "And everybody just loves the garlic."

55 N. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 652-7673.

-- Jessica.Gelt@latimes.com

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