Bistrotek: near LAX but far from airport food

Stringing together the letters L-A-X is a surefire way to generate discomfort in others. Unless you're referring to the Hollywood hang for B-list stars, you're considering a trip to the demoniacal traffic circle looping through our city's international airport.

Happily, Custom Hotel -- the spare-is-the-new-trendy boutique hotel that recently opened within parachuting distance of LAX -- hopes to change your feelings about the tragically Hilton-ized wasteland that has served peanuts and overly vermouth-y martinis to layover victims and their local relatives from time immemorial.

Custom is an unimpressive block of a building that shares a wall with a seedy-looking Ralphs grocery store, but inside -- where red walls set off the fluffy white woolliness of fake lobby sheep -- you'll find a promising new restaurant: Bistrotek.

The name seems a fitting moniker for a '90s dot-com firm and rather than shying away from the association, the designers have owned it. The wide-open space mimics an industrial SoHo loft with polished concrete floors, rows of dark-wood tables, a constellation of hanging lamps and a blocky bar.

The kitchen turns out slightly giddy American bistro fare touched by moments of inspiration. Fried green tomatoes are breaded in a crunchy crust speckled with tiny chunks of tangy sea salt and cooked until the green vegetable center goes all tender and gooey. Three springy dollops of mild mozzarella and a chunky jumble of diced heirloom tomatoes in a shallow sea of sweet balsamic vinaigrette surround the main event.

The mascarpone grilled cheese with Nutella is another highlight. The dessert is pan-grilled until it is slightly brown rather than perfectly golden -- just like your mom used to do it -- before being sliced diagonally and served with a ramekin of sweet raspberry jam dipping sauce.

Other dishes need work -- not the kind that will require a hard hat and heavy machinery; just gentle refinement. Caramelized sea scallops on a lumpy bed of shell bean succotash are underdone and lacking in the shreddable buoyancy that makes mollusks so singularly tasty. The beans, basking in a light buttery sauce, could also use a bit more time in the heat and the pleasing flavor of earthy beets is lost under the influence of pedestrian citrus vinaigrette.

Still, Bistrotek fills a void on the lonesome byways bordering the airport and does it well. Attentive service and a relaxed, warm atmosphere induce you to stay and talk a while. Just don't miss your plane. 8639 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester, (310) 645-0400.



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