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Confusion in the kitchen

Times Staff Writer

After sitting abandoned for four decades, the Spanish Kitchen has finally made an only-in-Hollywood comeback. Sure, the original site, which dates from 1932, is now a tony day spa, Ona Spa. But entrepreneur Greg Morris, who owns Belmont Lounge, has resuscitated the name “the Spanish Kitchen” for his new La Cienega Boulevard Mexican restaurant.

It’s taken months to transform the New Orleans-style Shark Bar into a Spanish hacienda. The outside has been given the look of weathered stucco streaked with pigment. Inside, wrought iron, colored glass windows and colorful tile accents conjure up an old-style Hollywood Mexican restaurant with about as much realism as the sets in those old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road movie. Here, the Dorothy Lamour part is played by a bevy of waitresses in black peasant blouses with red roses tucked in their hair.

Hugo Molino, longtime chef at Parkway Grill in Pasadena, is heading up the kitchen. Although the neon sign proclaims “authentic Mexican,” don’t expect guacamole, soft tacos and green enchiladas -- Molino has brought his arsenal of California cuisine tricks to bear on the menu. That means the tamales are filled with duck confit rather than chicken, and the quesadilla -- filled with huitlacoche (Mexican corn fungus) and Manchego (a Spanish cheese) -- comes with an orange guajillo chile sauce combed into a decorative scalloped pattern. Aztec broth is studded with filet mignon; crepes flavored with Mexican cocoa are filled with lobster and Manchego in a tequila lobster cream sauce.

However, “elevated” ingredients such as filet mignon, duck, lobster, rack of lamb and white chocolate don’t necessarily make for elevated cuisine. At this (very early) stage, the food comes off as fussy and contrived; you end up longing for gutsier, more focused flavors.

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Yes, we do need more ambitious Mexican restaurants that explore the breadth of Mexican cuisine. I’m just not sure the Spanish Kitchen has set off in the right direction with this first menu. It’s not going to satisfy either the kids looking for their fish taco fix or the foodies in search of authentic regional cooking.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric spot for a drink, the chilled Margaritas are generous and good. You can get a Cuban Mojito, too, and fans of sangria can get their favorite by the pitcher.

If you’ve never tried a Mexican wine, the wine list includes both a Chardonnay and a Nebbiolo, along with wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain.

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The Spanish Kitchen

Where: 826 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood

Hours: Open for dinner daily from 6 to 11 p.m. (until midnight on Friday and Saturday)

Prices: Appetizers, $9 to $15; main courses, $17 to $31; desserts, $7 to $9

Services: Valet parking; full bar

Contact: (310) 659-4794


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