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RESTAURANTS / Max Jacobson : A Magic Culinary Kingdom, Indeed

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After eating the tired concession foods inside Disneyland, I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of a hotel meal across the street. But Granville’s at the Disneyland Hotel provided the biggest restaurant surprise I had in 1988: One of the county’s best restaurants is just a monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom.

The restaurant is named after original owner Bonita Granville, whom some may recall as a child actress in an interminable succession of cult classics (“Nancy Drew,” “Ah, Wilderness,” etc.). She later resurfaced as wife and business partner of Texas oilman and Hollywood producer Jack Wrather (“Lassie”).

Granville died a few months ago, but her restaurant is alive and well. She designed the room to give an impression of elegance, with mahogany sideboards, Regency-style chairs and shades of burgundy everywhere you look. The upholstery is burgundy, the tablecloths are burgundy, the wallpaper is burgundy--even the napkins and the china are burgundy.

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Glass carvings illustrating great moments in American history (the Boston Tea Party, the Alamo) hang proudly in beveled-glass room dividers.

Like many of Granville’s old movies, the room is deliciously unhip and irresistibly campy. This is a room for dining , my dear. The sign at the door reads “Gentlemen are required to wear jackets.” That must be the way Bonita wanted it.

It’s odd, though, that she chose to open her restaurant in a hotel where most of the guests prefer to dress for Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy and Doc. The hotel does a brisk convention trade, but few of the people who stay here actually come for cocktails and dining. Indeed, the dining room was no more than a quarter full any of the three times I dined there. One of the captains said, “Whenever the park is busy, we’re slow.” That must mean most of the time.

I hope that things change soon. Granville’s chef, Tim Owen, deserves to be a star. He studied with Madeleine Kamman, who has been a major influence on many successful young U.S. chefs (Jimmy Schmidt of the Rattlesnake Clubs, for one). Like many of Kamman’s students, Owen’s style combines native U.S. ingredients with traditional French techniques.

His food is inventive. Some dishes--the Gulf oysters with cucumber, jicama and a four-pepper vinaigrette, for example--have a wonderful simplicity. Others, such as curried mushroom gyoza (little pockets of fried noodle dough with a filling of heady Indian spices in a mushroom duxelle ), are incredibly complicated.

Steamed little neck clams had been tenderly steamed in garlic butter; they came alongside a bundle of spinach that had been stir-fried with Pernod. Blue crab cakes were pan-fried in parsley butter and draped in a coral-colored crab mayonnaise; they were sensational.

A terrific Black Angus sirloin carpaccio came with olive oil and blue cheese. The smoked lamb and kidney sausages were a sensualist’s fantasy.

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I chose blackened drum-fish with a jalapeno Hollandaise for a seafood course and found it every bit as good as the redfish that Paul Prudhomme cooks up in his skillet: crusty, buttery and every bite bursting with smoke. The bluefin tuna, which was a bit tough, was redeemed by a delectable coriander butter.

The chef really surpasses himself when preparing meats. Owen’s medallions of veal loin with red and green cabbage were cooked in a cream sauce with port, then finished with an unusual mix of caraway seed and pancetta . His loin of lamb with anise crust had been butterflied, then roasted with fresh thyme and caramelized garlic. Tenderloin of beef was broiled with hot chile, scallion and orange peel, then glazed with ginger. All three dishes were remarkably understated, the meats as tender as soft butter.

I recommend that you choose the dinner called Granville’s Experience, which is sort of a menu degustation . For a set price, you get five full courses, including a choice of appetizers, a seafood entree, a salad, a meat course and a dessert. It’s the best value offered here.

Naturally, service in a restaurant such as this is impeccable. Finish your bread or lower the level in your water glass, and the busboy immediately replenishes it. Polish off one course, and the brisk and efficient waiters will bring the next one. Make a request, and the polite, polished captain will grant it.

The food may have a few international touches, but the wine list is unarguably American: Granville’s sells no imported wines. But the extensive list is so good that Wine Spectator magazine recently gave it an award of excellence. That’s just the way Bonita would have liked it.

Granville’s is expensive. Appetizers are $6.50 to $10.50. Salads are $4.50 to $6.50. Seafoods are $23 to $38. Specialties are $22.50 to $29.75. The Granville Experience is $44 a person.

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