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New Rockenwagner Still the Same

Until very recently, Hans and Mary Rockenwagner ran a small, low-key restaurant in Venice, on a quiet street where many of the neighboring shops could only be described as quaint . The restaurant, Rockenwagner, almost always received terrific reviews, but somehow the place never seemed trendy. Eating there, many people had the illusion of discovering the undiscovered.

Two weeks ago, however, Rockenwagner moved to Main Street, to a space in the Frank Gehry-designed Edgemar complex, which also houses the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The new place is larger than the original Rockenwagner, it’s louder than the original and, in order to keep up with its new trend-setter neighbors, it’s got an attention-getting design--sort of a disembodied “F-Troop” look.

Little log-fort hide-outs are suspended halfway between the action in the dining room below and the warehouse-like skeleton of a ceiling. There are homey touches--vintage vegetable-can labels decorate one wall, a giant stalk of asparagus leans in a corner--but these are not what you notice at first. Its all-glass front and spatial design (from David Kellen, incidently, the same designer of the original Rockenwagner) give the place a wide-open feel.

Rockenwagner regulars will be glad to know that things haven’t changed much on the plate. As always, Rockenwagner’s food is full of interesting ideas, mostly well-executed. Pork tenderloin comes crusted with coarse, cracked pepper; lobster, on special, is served en brioche with smoked vegetables. Even the vegetable-plate entree, boring in most restaurants, is dramatic and generous.

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And the crab souffle is still baked to order. Rockenwagner may have a new image but, at heart, it’s still the same restaurant.

* Rockenwagner, 2435 Main St., Santa Monica, (213) 399-6504. Entrees $15-$22.


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