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Worth shelling out for

Times Staff Writer

A black cat peers around a doorway, eyes glittering. That hungry cat is the name and the logo for a new Hollywood restaurant in the Sunset & Vine complex, just behind Borders bookstore and next door to the reinvented Schwab’s.

On the first day that the barely 3-week-old restaurant served brunch -- i.e., Saturday -- I pounced on my order of littleneck clams on the half shell. Flown in from Massachusetts, they tasted as if they had just been pulled from the Atlantic that morning.

Briny, crisp, with a minerally salt tang, they were delicious alone, with a drop of lemon, or with the hungry cat’s fine cocktail sauce.

Our waiter convinced me to try a Bloody Mary when he casually mentioned that chef-owner David Lentz (ex-Opaline) had pickled some okra, Brussels sprouts and cipolline onions the night before as a garnish. It’s a beautiful combination, this lime-drenched Bloody Mary with the raw clams.

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I could have eaten a dozen more of the littlenecks, but Lentz’s peel ‘n’ eat shrimp beckoned.

The restaurant offers two prices, $16 a half pound if you peel them yourself, $18 if the kitchen peels them for you. But why would you want them to? Getting down and dirty is what peel ‘n’ eat shrimp is all about.

Finger bowls are provided to clean up between shrimp. These are firm, big ones, boiled or steamed and then marinated to soak up even more flavor. Dunk ‘em in that cocktail sauce for a do-it-yourself shrimp cocktail.

From a table outside on the small patio, beneath an air conditioner that rumbles and belches, we could see into the galley kitchen where Lentz and his sous-chef turn out a smart small menu of East Coast seafood dishes. There are a few seats at the bar in front and a handful of dark-stained wood tables. It’s minimal and not all that comfortable, but hey, it’s the food that counts.

Maryland crab cakes are made from a hundred-year-old recipe. Almost solid crab, with very little filler, they’re crisped at the edges in butter -- a crab lover’s dream.

And at brunch they appear in a “crabby benedict” with Nueske bacon and a dreamy hollandaise. There’s also soft-scrambled eggs with chorizo and sofrito, or “tweety’s scramble,” which is Jack cheese with soft herbs and creme fraiche.

The night before, Lentz’s wife, Suzanne Goin (Lucques, A.O.C.), made up some granola, which they were serving with Straus Family Creamery yogurt and strawberries.

What to get? Bring some friends so you can taste and share. But if Lentz has baked his sticky buns with Peacock Farms pecans, reserve one of these warm, buttery buns all to yourself.

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The only thing I’ve had from the dinner menu is a bowl of delicious oyster stew laced with kale. You can also get a burger, a grilled trout and, of course, clams and oysters on the half shell. Come dinnertime, the hungry cat is open until 1 a.m.

Take a note for those times when you come out of a late movie or a play and can’t find anyplace to eat.

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The hungry cat

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Where: Sunset & Vine,

1555 N. Vine St., Hollywood;

(323) 462-2155

When: Dinner 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily; brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Street and lot parking

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Cost: Oysters, clams on the half shell, $2 each; peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, half pound $16; starters, $7 to $14; entrees, $18 to $22; brunch items, $4 to $22; dessert, $8.

Info: (323) 462-2155;

www.thehungrycat.com.


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