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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Dwelling on the High Points at the Tower

“L.A. is so . . . spread out,” they say; hesitantly, suddenly afraid of being taken for rubberneckers. For two decades, visiting New Yorkers have been socked in the face by this vast panoramic view of street lamps twinkling to the horizon, half a dozen freeways making rivers of light through it, and had to admit that even though L.A. is not truly big , it is prodigiously . . . spread out .

The 32nd floor view from the Tower is definitely one of the grandest things in L.A. dining. The Tower recently upgraded inside, too, with a couple of private dining rooms (walled in glass, of course, lest anybody have to do without that view) and a new color scheme of Prussian blue and coppery brown. It’s very pleasant up here in the night with a piano stylist tinkling away.

However, the Tower folks have also talked about a hot new chef from France. And it turns out he came by the ominous way of another view restaurant, the one in the Theme Building in the middle of the LAX parking lot. The current menu looks it. The closest to a novel dish, and it’s not very close, is an appetizer of four tiny black pasta ravioli with lobster filling.

In short, this is still a gazpacho and onion soup menu, a Continental menu of rich, tender, uninvolving food, a view restaurant menu. Entrees run to things like “three filets mignons” (beef, veal, pork), bathed in veal glaze, all extremely tender and kind of hard to tell apart.

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But let me dwell on the high points. There’s a savory modernized version of that Franco-Russian classic called coulibiac, salmon baked in filo with egg and rice. At lunch the petit filet steak comes on an “aubergine crouton,” which seems to be toasted brioche soaked with meat glaze, only with a wonderful flavor mysteriously like eggplant.

The Tower’s best moment of Continentalism is probably capon Madagascar, an excellently roasted chicken with a bit of curry flavor. It comes with the enjoyable, if pompously named, “triumvirate sauce,” actually an Indian or Indonesian trio of garnishes: a bit of mango chutney, a bit of bland peanut sauce and some sharp yogurt flavored with dill.

You can get a forgettable veal chop with mushrooms, or a duck in raspberry sauce that is sweet but not quite like dessert. You can get a very good, and rather huge, steak tartare, mixed with capers and green onions at the table. The menu invites you to order this item with a shot of Stolichnaya included (it works out to $5 a shot, but who can keep track of prices in the face of this overwhelming view?).

So some things are good, some OK. But there are also big problems up here in the stratosphere. I am rarely one to complain that a sauce “drowns out the flavor” of something, but it smacks of lunacy to put sweet, delicate lobster in a highly flavored Italian tomato-basil sauce. And the vegetables often have a steam table quality whether they started out as the most flavorless sort of baby carrots or bitter infant crookneck squash. (Still . . . my God, we can see Santa Monica!)

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Out comes the dessert cart, laden high with antiquities like baba au rhum (not a bad one, actually, quaintly sprinkled with coconut shavings) and tea room food like strawberry mousse.

Let’s face it, this is not the place to show a New Yorker the food California has become famous for. But wow, that view!

The Tower, Transamerica Tower, 1150 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213)746-1554. Lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $60 to $100.


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