Woodside Chef Branches Out

Eating at Woodside, a small, pleasant new restaurant in Brentwood, you get a feel for the best of what California food has become. That doesn't mean everything works here--it doesn't yet. But chef Louise Branch has worked with some of California's great chefs: Patina's Joachim Splichal, Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco, and Bikini's John Sedlar, where she was sous-chef. And she's seen the transformation of California cuisine.

The days of tiny portions and precious ingredients are over; in their place are substantial servings and rustic flavors. Roasted, grilled and braised are the buzzwords of current menus . . . and of Branch's menu.

Spaghetti, for instance, is tossed with oven-roasted tomatoes, olives and red onions. Pork chops are grilled, stuffed with prosciutto and sage and served with a sweet potato gratin and sauteed spinach. Lamb is braised and served with grits and greens.

The problem is that the flavors in some of the dishes don't seem assertive enough. Horseradish mashed potatoes served with the peppered filet of beef don't have much kick; the so-called spiced coleslaw served with the grilled baby chicken is fairly bland. But these are things that could be easily fixed. Branch is a chef to watch.

* Woodside, 11604 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 571-3800. Entrees $9.75-$16.75.

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