Unless you thought of visiting the Warehouse for the first time in 15 years, or thought the Apache Club West was still happening or you have a hobby of driving around light industrial zones looking for places to eat, you probably won't come across Trilogy, a new restaurant in an old club space right off Olympic Boulevard on Stoner Avenue in West Los Angeles. You'll recognize it by a well-lit logo painted on an outside wall: three buff, naked angels behind a strategically placed banner.
Named for the number of its owners, Trilogy has low ceilings and the slightly closed-in feeling of a vast underground chamber. Thick impasto stucco walls are pistachio and mustard colored with a few gold stars and the occasional, enormous looming angel. Plain columns have been given faux flutes. With palm fronds and wrought-iron furniture, the look is part decorator-celestial, part tacky Romanesque garden. The room seems at least double its size, thanks to a wall of mirrors in the back.
One of Trilogy's owners is a woman who patrols the dining room, introducing herself to diners and staying for a chat. Another owner is chef David Danhi, who comes to Trilogy after cooking at Roxbury and more recently at Georgia. Danhi has won good notices and a prestigious Mondavi Rising Star Chef award. I was curious to see what kind of cooking he'd do in his own place.
Indeed, he's devised his own brand of regional California cooking--fresh, regional ingredients prepared with the no-holds-barred eclecticism endemic to what is commonly dubbed "California cuisine."
Danhi, clearly, can turn out a good plate of food: Blue crab cakes are sweet and subtly spicy; a grilled half chicken is beautifully prepared: succulent, well-seasoned, slightly smoky from the grill. No complaints on a generous, tasty roast rack of lamb, either.
In much of the cooking, however, there is a recurring trilogy of problems: Some dishes are ill-conceived; the kitchen is not always careful; and prices are not low enough to forgive these lapses.
The ill-conceived include shrimp breaded in sweet coconut and fried to a near-burnt brown and served with a cloying blood orange and horseradish sauce that tastes like a child's food experiment. Similarly, thresher shark "crusted" in crushed fluorescent red tortilla chips, seems like a child's idea of fancy cooking: how to make fish taste overwhelmingly like chips. And salmon buried under tomatoes and melted mozzarella seems like another kiddie plot--this time, to make fish taste like pizza.
A "Napoleon" made with thin slices of portobello mushrooms layered with spinach, tomato and cheese should be much better, but somehow, whoever cooked it made it bland as plain boiled vegetables.
A weakness for fava beans led me to order the $6.50 Trilogy salad; alas, we found not a single fava amid lettuce, cucumbers--only a few starchy sprouted peas. The waitress asked how we liked it. "It's OK, but where are the favas. . . ?"
She drew back in comic outrage. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "What is he doing to me now?" She marched off to the kitchen. A few minutes later, she returned. "We're out of favas and nobody told me," she said.
A New York steak is cooked medium well rather than medium rare. Vegetarian winter stew is too salty. The "vegetarian banquet," described as an "assortment of grains, sauteed vegetables and polenta" on the menu, looked like a plate run through a military mess line: There was a scoop of the house rice pilaf, a scoop of sauteed, mixed vegetables, and a huge sticky blob of black bean polenta, a substance that bears an uncanny resemblance to mortar.
I can't decide if Danhi who, after all, gave us a "Napoleon" for an appetizer, intentionally brings breakfast flavors to his desserts. Poppy-seed cake with fresh fruit tastes more like pancakes.
A plate of goat cheese, honey, fruit and nuts tastes like a gourmet hippie breakfast--not bad, just, well, peculiar. More conventional desserts--an intense bittersweet chocolate torte and quite a charming chocolate apricot pecan pie--are, however, quite delicious.
* Trilogy , 2214 Stoner Ave., (310) 477-2844. Open for lunch Mondays through Fridays, for dinner Mondays through Saturdays. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $42-$67.