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On the edge of grandeur

Times Staff Writer

Quick: If you don’t have a famous chef or a spectacular dining room, what’s the most important factor in launching a new restaurant? Location, location, location.

The new Cliff’s Edge certainly has that -- even if it’s not obvious. The front of the restaurant is practically anonymous -- a blank wall with a small, unlighted sign in the top corner. It’s set on a scrappy stretch of Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Silver Lake, across from El Conquistador and Tantra and next door to a 99 Cents Only store.

But trust me. Hand over your wheels to the valet, then walk to the back of the parking lot. Stepping through the doorway is a breathtaking experience -- nothing prepares you for the proportion and grandeur of the restaurant’s walled garden. Here is an astonishing outdoor space anchored by a ficus tree so immense it must be closing in on a century. Its mighty limbs stretch over the tables set on two levels around the patio. A few are sheltered under a thatched roof cabana, but most are in the balmy open air.

The garden itself is barely sketched in, a little funky even, but it has potential.

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Leave it to entrepreneur Dana Hollister, who owns the magical Paramour Mansion in Silver Lake, which she rents out for extravagant private events, to discover such a place. It was a disco in the ‘80s, but it’s been sitting unused ever since.

In terms of space, the inside seems puny compared to the outside, but both have about 25 tables. We’re not talking intimate. The owners, who include designer Keith Greco (Cirque du Soleil, the Emmys) and manager Pierre Casanova (quite a name, eh?), plan to start serving lunch on weekdays next summer. It’s already open for brunch on weekends.

This place could make a killing whatever it served. The menu from chef Curt Schullwitz, who has worked all over L.A., including the Little Door and Cicada, is an ambitious compendium of Cal-Mediterranean. Dishes include sea urchin crostini, Caesar salad, linguini with clams, and pecan-encrusted rainbow trout.

The opening menu at Cliff’s Edge offers what I’d call smallish plates. Not tapas and not dinner, but something in between.

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For starters, there’s veal ravioli “in brodo” and fritto misto (mixed fry) of calamari, tiny “silver fishes,” zucchini and eggplant to dip in a balsamic tarragon mayonnaise. Chicken liver bruschetta with wild mushrooms and bone marrow tastes appealing, but those livers need to be chopped more.

Greek salad with ricotta salata doesn’t have much personality. I could say the same about many of the other dishes that we tasted on a first visit. It’s early days, though, and the kitchen must be stressed. Sometimes it’s slow. Sometimes it’s wildly busy.

Brunch includes poached eggs bruschetta with arugula and crispy applewood-smoked bacon along with crepes (about time for crepes to make a comeback) in both savory and sweet variations.

There’s just one cloud in the silver lining: They’re restricted from using the garden after 11 p.m., which is a real handicap in this neighborhood of night owl hipsters.

Maybe if everybody is real quiet -- no shriekers, please -- that could change.

*

Cliff’s Edge

Where: 3626 Sunset Blvd. (at Edgecliff Drive), Silver Lake

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When: Dinner 6 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Wednesdays, 6 to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Closed Sunday nights. Brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Full bar. Valet parking.

Cost: Antipasti, $5 to $12; salads, $7 to $12; pasta, $10 to $14; meat and fish, $10 to $14. Brunch items, $5 to $14. Lunch panini, $8 to $14.

Info: (323) 666-6116


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