B runch is a silly name for what is usually a dreary meal--a pasty, gunky smorgasbord of rubbery eggs Benedict, watery omelets and assorted crepes or hunks of sorry fish cloaked in something very close to tin-can white sauce, all washed down with sweetish, often brackish so-called "champagne."

I suspect that it's far too late to do anything about the silliness of the name; the word (not to mention the concept) brunch is apparently here to stay. But surely something can be done about the style and quality of the food we so sunnily ingest of a late weekend morning.

These thoughts were prompted by a recent brunchtime visit to noted restaurant consultant George Lang's highly enjoyable New York bistro, Cafe des Artistes. I won't mention the easygoing, European feeling of the place, or the friendly modestly professional service. I won't even note that the cooking, while rarely brilliant, is almost always pretty good. I will simply quote a bit from the menu--the brunch menu, mind you: clams on the half-shell with Mexican relish; hot Lyonnaise sausage en croute ; Danish-style herring sampler; salmon "four ways" (smoked, poached, dill-marinated, and tartare); cold chicken cutlet with tomato-and-basil salad; fettuccine with broccoli, sausage and bacon; curried stew of shrimp, mussels, scallops and oysters; frozen mocha and praline mousse; coffee pecan pie and raspberry rye torte. That's only a partial list, of course. Oh, and if you want egg dishes, the selection might include a zucchini and parmigiano frittata, scrambled eggs with gravlax and a brioche, or (if you insist) a version of eggs Benedict neatly enhanced by a few slices of smoked salmon. Match that, Los Angeles.

But, in fact, why shouldn't Los Angeles be as imaginative with its brunch menus? Why do Southern Californians seem to be condemned to spend their lazy off-time mornings mired in floury cream sauce, hemmed in by phalanxes of quiche? There are a few uncommon brunches served hereabouts, of course. (The bright, Mexican-flavored menu at the West Beach Cafe in Venice comes immediately to mind, as do the "ethnic" spreads at places like Byblos in West Los Angeles and the Thousand Cranes in the New Otani Hotel downtown. And, of course, there was once the ever-changing American regional selection at the late American Bar & Grill.) And there are certainly traditional brunches of high quality to be had around town (consider, for example, the Cock 'n Bull on the Sunset Strip, Fiasco in Marina del Rey, the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, and the Westwood Marquis Hotel). But so much more, I can't help feeling, could be done with this hybrid meal, this portmanteau repast. Come on, all you creative chefs and restaurateurs! Wake up! It's Sunday morning!

HOOCH CUISINE: It has recently come to my attention that California State Assembly Bill AB 2575, signed into law last year by Gov. Deukmejian, authorizes bona-fide eating places with on-sale beer and wine licenses to keep brandy, rum and other high-proof alcohol on the premises for cooking purposes. And in case you think it's rather silly that the state's chefs didn't used to be able to do so, you might be interested to learn that in that great gastronomic capital of the north, Toronto, it was against the law until the mid-1970s for chefs--even in restaurants with full alcohol licenses--to even use wine for cooking on Sundays.

RESTAURATEURS' RESORT: The California Restaurant Assn. is holding a 2 1/2-day restaurant management conference at the Palm Desert Resort and Country Club in Palm Desert, June 2 through 4. Call Bobbi Vego at (800) 252-0444 for further information.

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