Le Jardin-- An Oasis of Quiet Dining

Times Staff Writer

Le Jardin in Sherman Oaks stands out as an oasis for quiet dining amid today's predominantly noisy restaurants. Dark green carpet, an acoustically tiled ceiling and floral drapes on the French doors forming the front wall absorb enough sound to permit conversation without straining either your vocal chords or ears. What a pleasure.

The large square room is sunny by day and softly lit with votive candles in the evening. Fifteen or so tables are set far enough apart to allow both privacy and ease of getting in and out of the bentwood chairs. Linens are clean and crisp, flowers fresh. Vine pattern wallpaper covers one wall; an antique wine rack dominates another.

At the back of the restaurant are two refrigerated cases displaying some of the offerings. One is filled with desserts, all prepared on the premises, as is the bread. The former are made by the owner, Shirin Navab, the latter by her husband.

Originally the couple intended to open just a bakery (they sell their bread and croissants to other restaurants). But since there was extra space, tables were added and now they also employ two chefs, one to handle lunch and Sunday brunch, the other to handle dinner.

The printed menu offers many French classics, but daily specials (which tend to feature fresh fish) add scope and creativity to the choices. Appetizers include a well-seasoned country pate served with slightly salty aspic and ample cornichons. To the side of the same plate is a small salad of lettuce and two tomato wedges drizzled with dressing. This, along with their freshly baked rolls, could easily satisfy me for lunch. We also enjoyed the artichoke appetizer, filled with a creamy mustard dressing.

My guess is that the canard l'orange, tournedos of beef, chicken (prepared according to the chef's mood) and lamb chops are all very acceptable, but on each visit the fish specials won us over. Once it was baby salmon with sauteed sliced almonds and a hint of garlic; another time the same fish was enhanced with lemon and capers. White fish was topped with artichoke hearts and shrimp, tuna was served in Champagne sauce. All received only praises.

Dinner entrees include a choice of soup or salad. On one visit, the creamy tomato soup was very good, but another time the potato-leek was disappointingly lacking in flavor. Salads had crisp fresh greens, a tomato slice and well-balanced vinaigrette dressing.

The entrees themselves are accompanied by two vegetables and a starch, which vary by the day and season. Rice is often served with fish, but once it came with sauteed, diced red potatoes. Pureed carrots, which were flavorful enough to tell they were carrots, and haricot verts were the vegetables on our recent visits.

Attentive Service

The lunch menus includes more salads, along with omelettes, crepes and sandwiches. Fish specials are also offered.

Service at Le Jardin is very attentive but certainly not pressured. And thanks to the advice of our waitress, we enjoyed the creme brulee for dessert--one of the best I've ever tasted--which we otherwise would have missed.

We also enjoyed the decadent cappuccino mousse drizzled with fudge sauce and sprinkled with sliced almonds. The tart tartan was the only dessert that was a little disappointing.

Several wines are offered by the glass--a Chardonnay, white Bordeaux, white Zinfandel, Chablis, red Bordeaux and Zinfandel. There is also a limited selection of wine by the bottle. Coffee, espresso (regular or decaffeinated), cappuccino and cafe au lait are available.

Le Jardin, 13615 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 905-0907. Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 from 10 p.m., Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sunday brunch served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sunday evening and Monday. Reservations accepted. All major credit cards accepted. Street parking and limited spaces behind the restaurant. Dinner entrees $11.50 to $18.95.

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