Hearty Haven at Ritz Grill

Times Staff Writer

There is nothing innovative, challenging or even very interesting about the menu at the Ritz Grill in Pasadena. And this may be precisely why the place is jammed. The Ritz (no relation to the Ritz Cafe in Los Angeles) is a haven from the nouvelle , a place where there is food, not pictures, on the plates, where one is not ashamed to be seen eating mere meat and potatoes.

Those potatoes, by the way, are the Ritz potatoes--golden brown, deep-fried, garlic-seasoned potato balls that are marvelous. Not everything is that good. But the restaurant is slowly evolving since opening July 31. The wine list has been revised. Pastries are now being made on the premises. And the raw-hard, unseasoned vegetables that used to accompany the entrees have been replaced with better vegetables--cheerful-looking carrot and zucchini sticks one evening, perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts another time.

Mint Sauce Minus Mint

This is a good beginning, but more needs to be done. Customers who want plain food need to be warned that the grilled filet mignon and lamb chops come coated with sauce. Furthermore, the "fresh mint sauce" promised with the lamb chops turned out to be a heavy-handed bordelaise, untouched by mint either fresh, dried or in jelly form. The steak and the chops were excellent. They should have been left alone.

The Ritz's mesquite grill is reserved for fish, which also comes with sauce--a light butter, lemon and wine mixture. Swordfish and salmon were fresh and moist. The only drawback to the seafood is its accompaniment, a very ordinary pilaf instead of those succulent Ritz potatoes. Too bad.

The Ritz could also improve its bread, a marbled loaf that looks appealing but is cottony and bland. And why would one bother injecting strawberries with Grand Marnier and coating them with chocolate only to finish the presentation with a non-dairy whipped topping squirted from a can? Real cream--or none--would be more appropriate.

Fresh Flowers and Greenery

Dinner entrees range from $7.25 for a chicken dish to $15.95 for the lamb chops. The inclusion of a few sandwiches on the dinner menu seems more appropriate to a traditional leathery grill than to this beautiful place, which glows with peachy tones, fresh flowers and greenery.

The sandwich list is expanded for lunch, and one out of three of those sampled was excellent. The winner was the Ritz Club, which packs turkey, avocado, bacon, cranberries and cream cheese inside whole-wheat bread. The baron of beef sandwich, described as thinly sliced roast beef piled high on toasted sourdough, was disappointing. The overcooked beef was not piled high, and the toasted bread was soggy with that ever-present bordelaise sauce, which also swamped the bread for the New York steak sandwich.

The nicest place to sit is the downstairs dining room, where an enormous window looks out at trees that sparkle at night with tiny white lights. This lighted area is the patio, open for lunch on warm days. Also try the tiny, greenhouse-like dining area opening off the large, glassed-in bar. Seating upstairs is rather cramped.

In atmosphere, design and service, the Ritz Grill is the sort of place one would choose for a special occasion. With a little work and revision, the menu could measure up to that impression.

The Ritz Grill, 168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Reservations advised. Call (818) 405-0806. Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking behind the restaurant. A second Ritz Grill is scheduled to open March 18 at 6197 Ball Road, Cypress.

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