RESTAURANT REVIEW : Savage Court: Memorable Combinations a la Westside

I don't know what happened. Maybe it was highway hypnosis. We were just driving over to the Westside and the next thing I knew someone was shaking my shoulder and saying, "Hey, this is San Pedro."

No problem, I knew where I was. San Pedro: Yugoslav restaurants, loud Greek restaurants, that place that's like eating in a gracious old home where they happen to hire one avant-garde cook after another. And Ports O' Call.

But here was something strange called Savage Court, right across the street from a war-surplus store that boasts it can get you a used battleship if you want, and it seemed just like a Westside restaurant. In any way you can name--exposed bricks and beams, antique fans, artsy photos; funny-colored peppercorns, funny-colored pastas, Italian ices, funky cheeses.

Particularly the funky cheeses. A roasted head of garlic was served with a cube of rich goat cheese practically strong enough to overpower it. The dressing on a salad of wild greens was enriched with mascarpone and ground walnut--likewise maybe too much for the greens, but wild in its own right.

There's even funky cheese on the burger, a thick patty of meat in the traditional oblate spheroid shape of a back-yard-barbecue burger, served in a big sesame bun that has as much trouble holding such a patty as any toasted bun ever has. It came with sauteed mushrooms and melted Brie on it. Once I got past the shock of smelling hot Brie on a burger, it was peculiarly enjoyable. I'd go for the Dijon on this particular burger.

The funny-colored peppercorns were a little more problematic. I can remember the sarcastic sharpness of the red and green peppercorns in the Cabernet sauce on the steak, but I can't remember the steak at all. The funny-colored pasta I tried was black fettuccine with a bunch of seafood in red sweet pepper sauce, which sounded a little more interesting than it was.

The really notable thing about Savage Court is the unusual flavor combinations, which seem to show up particularly on the daily specials. There was a soup of pureed celery root, apple and onion, more tart than sweet and truly fascinating. Sauteed grouper was topped with a light but agreeably savage hash of raw apple and radish that I can still taste.

On the whole, though, my memory is a little cloudy about the whole episode. I remember dishes like American home cooking from Mars. A chicken breast was sauteed in olive oil with tomatoes and lots of minced garlic and rosemary, but the best part was the crunchy wild-rice pancakes, still seething with hot oil when they came out of the kitchen. The sauteed pork tenderloin was stuffed with apple and corn bread (and some almonds), topped with very welcome fried onions (called "onion marmalade" on the menu, presumably because they were distinctly sweet).

The desserts change all the time, but one really stands out in my mind, a chocolate "cake" of the current Westside variety (viz. a brownie), made with very good chocolate and in an arresting bitter chocolate sauce. You can have your cheesecakes (particularly the Almond Roca cheesecake, which is pretty heavy going by the end of a meal here), you can have your vanilla bean and butterscotch gelati , I'll take the cake.

No, on second hand, I'll take the gelati too. I did all the driving.

Savage Court, 354 West 6th St., San Pedro. (213) 514-3505. Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Beer and wine. Street parking. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $30 to $45.

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