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Restaurants | THE REVIEW

A scene sprinkled with stardust

With the new Minx, Glendale gets a trendy restaurant-club that's the place to be on a Saturday night.

January 24, 2007|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

WEEKENDS, twentysomethings on the prowl for a fun, splashy evening gravitate to La Cienega or Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, or to the Cahuenga corridor and Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. That's where most of the extravagantly appointed restaurant-lounge-clubs -- places like Republic, Citizen Smith, Sunset Beach and Geisha House -- are located.

But what's a girl to do if she lives in Glendale or Burbank or Eagle Rock? Come 1 or 2 a.m., after a night of drinking and partying, it's a long way home.

Enter Minx, a sprawling new Glendale club that offers some of the glamour of those West Hollywood and Hollywood spots, a fine-dining restaurant and a bar menu, and the bonus of a crowd of geographically similar club-goers. If you meet someone at Minx, located near the junction of the 134 and 2 freeways, he or she just may turn out to live nearby. The club is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so you can have dinner and stay to party until 1 a.m.

On those three nights, in fact, the place is jammed. Just before 10 p.m., when the club officially opens, the line of people waiting to get inside stretches into the parking lot and dozens of cars inch their way up Harvey Drive and past a strategically placed In-N-Out Burger.

Hard to believe this free-form contemporary structure with enormous white canvas sails shading the wraparound outdoor terraces was once a humble Rusty Pelican. Designer Margaret "Peg" O'Brien, who has decorated Republic and other trendy venues, has sprinkled a little stardust over the exterior and interior of the once-prosaic space.

The spacious main dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city and mountains. O'Brien's design features whimsical lighting fixtures, pebble trails embedded in the floor and dark wood tables. A trio of high-sided booths are large enough for six to squeeze into. There's also a leaf-shaped communal table with high stools for larger groups of friends. Tables are bare, each place set with woven silver-and-turquoise vinyl placemats and stemware in good, all-purpose shapes. On Saturday nights, an outdoor bar is in full swing and VIP cabanas are for rent for those who want to entertain in high style.

But if you come for dinner as opposed to lounging, you may go away as disgruntled as the occasional Rusty Pelican customer who wanders in and wonders what on Earth has happened to the old place. Though the owners have hired 33-year-old Joseph Antonishek -- an experienced chef who has worked at Jean Georges and Mesa Grill in New York, among others, and was most recently chef at O-Bar in West Hollywood -- the food, with only a few exceptions, just isn't very good.

Baby arugula salad tastes as if the kitchen simply shook the leaves out of the bag, squirted on a yuzu vinaigrette and tossed. The accompaniments are stale walnuts, pan-fried Japanese pear slices and the miniature grilled-cheese sandwich that enticed me to order the dish. But as far as I can tell, the sandwich is neither grilled nor fried -- the Roquefort inside is still cold. Lobster and corn bisque is floury and excessively rich, with no sign of corn.

Giant ravioli with a zucchini and eggplant filling are, without a doubt, the worst ravioli I've ever been served anywhere, overcooked to the point the pasta is practically porridge and inflicted with a thick sauce of red bell pepper and tomatoes with a sweet kick. On top is what looks like a miniature football and turns out to be a squash blossom filled with goat cheese and deep-fried to a dark pigskin color.

Main courses are even worse than those starters. Barramundi, a beautiful fish from Australia that's now farm-raised in Indonesia, is cooked to limp rags and not helped by a horseradish jus or the gluey mashed potatoes. A greasy braised lamb shank is poorly served by a root vegetable risotto that's cooked well past the al dente stage. And it's hard to believe that the thin, gray piece of beef coated in chopped hazelnuts and cocoa nibs is the filet mignon it's purported to be. What an awful idea.

The kitchen gets into trouble by making the presentation more important than the taste. It seems to me many dishes don't have an internal logic. Instead of being built from the ground up, flavor by flavor, they're more like prefabs with add-ons. Even so, the execution isn't up to par and is especially inept when the chef is not in the kitchen. I suspect that part of the problem is that on slow nights -- in other words, nonclub nights -- the kitchen staff is stripped back to a minimum.

Or it could be that the guy is overworked: Minx is open for lunch or brunch and dinner seven days a week. Or it could be that the kitchen is criminally understaffed, I don't know.

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