Hungry-Man Portions Put a Kick in Kikka

Times Staff Writer

Pinch me if I'm wrong, but this place, Kikka, in the Beverly Hills Rodeo Collection, where even biggies, such as Kikka's unfortunate predecessor, Scalora's Cafe, could hardly pay the rent, is still alive and kikking . . . kicking.

Who would have given Kikka two minutes, much less one year survival time in the icy waters of Beverly Hills?

More power to them.

Frankly, I am not one of Kikka's great fans, in spite of--and probably because of--the free valet daytime parking and all-you-can-eat lunch for $5.99 ($10.99 at dinner). What you can really eat fills a thimble in my book, but that's not the idea. The idea is the idea. Who was Kikka expecting? The "Beverly Hillbillies"? The "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"? Who wants to be caught gorging on all-you-can-eat for $5.99 in the Rodeo Collection? Or bumping into someone you know who shouldn't know, heaven forbid. It's like slinking into Cartier's for a freebie.

But if that doesn't bother you, anyone--passing through or parachuting in--with an overactive hypothalamus or unquenchable appetite for practically giveaway food, can fill up for a week at Kikka's.

But close your eyes when you land. The help-yourself buffet bar is an unsightly portable cafeteria roller counter, which makes you feel that any moment the whole darn thing will start rolling away from under your chopsticks before you've had a stab at the sweet and sour pork.

The atmosphere (vestiges of the old Scalora Cafe) is simple and clean, but without aesthetic appeal, which, for a place in the Rodeo Collection, is like having a discount store in the Taj Mahal. A few stacked sake wine barrels greet you at the door for decorative effect, the way they do in Japan. The bar--once a bar--is stacked with things the bookkeeper might have left behind. I don't know. Something is amiss. But that is not the point, either.

Maybe if the food were as wonderful as the price of the meal, one could blind oneself to the aesthetics. If you are not fussy, however, there are a number of things you probably would find satisfactory.

You might, for instance, enjoy the 16 varieties of all-you-can-eat, ready-to-eat sushi on the carts. They're actually freshly made if you go to lunch early enough to catch the first round. I'm not sure when the second round comes around, or if it does at all. You get, beside the run-of-the-mill sushi, California roll, salmon roe, yellowtail, sea urchin and geoduck clams. The entrees, too, include an eye-boggling variety of 35 dishes to choose from in a Sino-Japanese-American mix-and-match fashion.

There are Japanese beef and chicken teriyaki, vegetable tempura, fried crab legs and shrimp, oysters and clams, sashimi and sea snails. There is a miso soup that you could probably live on, it is so thick with seaweed. And the rice is a good filler if you ever feel the urge. And if you go for Sunday brunch, you also get a Japanese buffet with Champagne.

Among the American things, on a rotating basis, there are potato salad, macaroni salad and chicken salad, as well as breaded shellfish or fish with mayonnaise done with a Japanese flavor effect and look. Every cube of potato is precision-cut.

In the Chinese food department, there are egg rolls, broccoli and shrimp, sweet and sour pork. Remember Chinese gelatin squares? They sometimes serve them in Cantonese restaurants in lieu of almond cookies. They've got them on the dessert buffet along with fruit salads and soggy banana fritters.

I liked none of the fried things on the steam table, in fact, because they were too cold and too soggy to be enjoyed. Chewy, too. I did, however, enjoy the breaded scallops, which were surprisingly fresh and crisp. The teriyaki had the unmistakable shoe-leather quality of most college cafeteria steam-table fare, placing it on my unqualified list along with the fried stuff.

The service at Kikka is among the most genuinely polite in town. Short of breaking their necks to get you a glass of water, a clean plate or the check, they outdo civility by a mile.

On a nice day, you can sit outside and admire the Rodeo Collection scenery. Which at Kikka is a very good thing.

Kikka Restaurant, Rodeo Collection, 421 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (213) 859-0087. Open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., for dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Reservations accepted for large parties. One-hour free validated valet parking before 5 p.m. available. Free city lot parking nearby or $2.50 charge in the Rodeo Collection parking lot after 5 p.m. Catering available. Lunch $5.99, dinner and Sunday Champagne brunch $10.99.

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