The Grand Pink Palace Is Back Where It Belongs

TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Two and a half years and more than $100 million later, the Beverly Hills Hotel is back. We cut in front of a Rolls to enter the long line of cars inching their way toward the landmark 1912 hotel's entrance.

Sunset Boulevard's "Pink Palace" is looking good, maybe a little too good. The restoration has not-so-subtly gilded the lily. The chandeliers are the biggest and shiniest in the land (sunglasses required for any serious inspection). There are splashes of gold everywhere, including a hand-painted gold-leaf piano in the Tea Lounge.

And that lovely, innocent Beverly Hills pink has been tilted more toward peach and pale terra-cotta. Sofas and chairs are covered in velvet the color of peach fuzz. We have a grand time trying out all the public rooms, flinging ourselves on the saucy chaise lounges, on the round quilted poufs.

Some of the newly remodeled rooms are open for viewing that night and we follow the crowd down a long hallway papered in the famous banana print. We open closets, peer into the shower, primp in the mirror. We check out the fluffy terry robes.

We walk down the stairs to the diminutive subterranean coffee shop and sit for a few minutes on the tall wrought-iron stools, eyeing the malt machines, making plans to come back for a grilled cheese and tomato or a honey-glazed ham sandwich. And a chocolate malt.

Upstairs, the Polo Lounge is in full swing again, a line waiting to get in. A woman in her 70s leans on her son's arm and makes her way, slowly, regally, toward her table, intent on revisiting the haunt of her youth. She knows what to order: "A martini, please."

And then it's time for dinner at the new Polo Grill. Reached by walking around the back of the Polo Lounge toward the bungalows on a carpeted outdoor walkway, its undulating mahogany walls and sumptuous banquettes give it a sleek, sophisticated look. What was this before? "A storeroom," came the reply. You'd never guess. Menus are heavy, upholstered in banana print and the prices therein are very serious. A soup described as black mushroom "tea" with pearl barley and clam risotto? Chef Frank Cramme is not exactly playing it safe.

There's a rather strange warm arugula salad topped with white peaches and garnished with tortellini stuffed with the astonishing combination of oxtail and goat cheese. It's a stretch. What is delicious is the juicy smoked rare pigeon breast marinated in jasmine tea leaves and Chinese wine. And the truffled veal sausage with sweetbreads. But I don't know about the braised lamb shank and lobster, sort of a nouveau surf 'n' turf that is no improvement on the original. Still, the menu--not yet finalized--has possibilities.

Welcome back.

* Fountain Coffee Room, Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-2251. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; breakfast specialties $8.50-$11.50; lunch specialties $7.50-$15.50. First come, first served. The Polo Lounge is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; appetizers $7.50-$16, entrees $14.50-$24. The Polo Grill is open daily for dinner only. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Appetizers $14-$18.50, entrees $29-$35.

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