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Safari Grub

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, here comes the Elephant Bar, more or less T.G.I. Friday’s meets Banana Republic. It’s just about what you’d think.

When you’re in the right mood, it can be fun. The waiters prowling the leopard-skin-motif carpet wear safari clothes. Tropical plants are spotted throughout the place. Jungle beasts adorn the walls, and the ceiling over the bar is the gorgeous deep blue of a summer sky.

The menu is eclectic--it lists just about anything you can think of, from French onion soup to Oriental noodle concoctions. Naturally, not all of it is equally good.

For instance, the Caesar salad is delicious, with enough pureed anchovy in the dressing to give the snappy-fresh greens some real complexity. But the French onion soup isn’t nearly as beefy as you’d hope, and the onions are crunchy and underdone, as if they were thrown in just before serving.

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The “smokehouse” barbecued chicken sandwich (on a nice fresh roll) is fatty bacon, lean ham, a practically flavorless pounded chicken breast, lots of gooey melted processed cheese and some mild, sweet barbecue sauce, which doesn’t help. The 100% chuck hamburgers are fine, though, as are the charbroiled fish tacos, made with mahi-mahi and all the usual taco trimmings.

*

The best of the entrees, for my money, is the braised lamb shanks with garlic mashed potatoes and some standard-issue steamed veggies. You get two tender shanks in tomato sauce, but one would be plenty; in fact, the menu gives you that option for the bargain price of $7.25.

I also liked my fresh salmon, which is brushed with a barely detectable lemon herb sauce and a surprisingly fluffy mound of steamed rice.

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The Elephant Bar’s kitchen dips heavily into Asian cooking, with mixed results. The fried spring roll has a crunchy skin and a heady squirt of hot Chinese mustard, but the filling--mostly cabbage, carrot, onion and mushroom--has the texture of lawn-mower mulch.

The wok-fried Pan-Pacific noodles aren’t bad, though, and the Shanghai cashew chicken, also done in the wok, is surprisingly good.

There are lots of silly tropical drinks and even one or two good desserts. The creme brulee is wonderfully silken for a theme-restaurant version, and the hot apple blueberry cobbler (more exactly, a fruit crisp) has a deliciously buttery streusel topping.

I ate so much that I felt a little elephantine myself on the way out. Maybe that’s the idea.

BE THERE

Elephant Bar, 110 N. 1st St., Burbank. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Full bar. Parking in structure. All major cards. Dinner for two, $19-$35. Suggested dishes: Caesar salad, $4.95; classic burger, $5.50; braised lamb shanks, $10.50; Shanghai cashew chicken, $9.50. Call (818) 842-1334.


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