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The Contender 

Beverly Hills’ Chadwick

Wednesday, Dec 6 2000
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Chadwick is the fourth restaur-ant at 267 S. Beverly Drive that I‘ve reviewed in the last decade. Since the cozy Chez Helene vacated the address some years ago, the ill-fated Chez Gilles and Bistro K have come and gone. But Chadwick’s investors have made a far bigger commitment. The new restaurant is named for the organic-gardening genius of Santa Cruz, Alan Chadwick, an homage that signals its devotion to topnotch ingredients. The chef-owner is Benjamin Ford, who has been honing his chops for the last few years at The Farm of Beverly Hills, and his co-chef is Govind Armstrong. (And, as is inevitably mentioned, Ford‘s father is actor Harrison Ford.)

The space has been beautifully redone. Gone is the funky farmhouse feel, the battered bistro appeal. The walls have been paneled in a warm, pale wood; the lighting is a subtle, gleaming perfection of candlelight. The service staff is plentiful and professional -- the desk staff, hostesses and manager are especially friendly and accommodating. (Too bad there isn’t a comfortable place to wait for your table, though. The desk provides drinks, pashmina shawls and two paltry space heaters to keep you outside and out of the way, but these aren‘t enough.) On some nights, the clientele can be predominantly older, wealthy Beverly Hillians, but the well-heeled of every age are also represented -- Chadwick is the hot new destination restaurant. It’s also a showcase of what‘s new on the scene, the first serious contender since Lucques and Melisse.

And the food? Tender, fresh oak-leaf lettuces are tossed with crumbles of Spanish blue cheese (cabrales) and toasted pine nuts, but the dressing doesn’t sing. The same caliber of ingredients is found in an haricot vert and chanterelle salad, with pink flakes of fried prosciutto -- but no pizzazz. Livelier is the romaine-hearts salad, with its lemon-spiked dressing, Parmesan crisps and anchovy toasts.

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The first time I had foie gras at Chadwick, the $16 portion was pitiful, mounted on a fat round of French toast and glazed, overly sweetened apples. On a subsequent visit, the portion of goose liver had more than doubled. Potato cannelloni with sweetbreads and wild mushrooms seems a curious attempt to pair the delicate (sweetbreads) with the robust (crepe-wrapped potato) -- otherwise its raison d‘etre escapes me. Another appetizer, of grilled sepia (a kind of squid), looks like a few small feathers scattered -- sparingly -- on the plate. I haven’t seen anything like it since the ‘80s, when chef John Sedlar naughtily tested the limits of how little food he could put on a plate, and how much he could charge for it.

There is a dazzler among the entrees, the only real revelation: sauteed scallops bed-ded on fresh succotash (corn and baby shell beans). With a barely crisped exterior, the scallops are soft and pleasurably chewy in the mouth, with the nubbly succotash providing additional sensuous pleasure. Nothing else compares, although I had no complaint with the goose, the meat dark and rich and complemented by excellent squash gnocchi and a fabulous roasted onion and chestnut ragout (served in a hollowed-out baby pumpkin); too bad the meat and the gnocchi were lukewarm.

Colorado lamb, a medium-rare chop and a long-cooked little shank, is again of admirable quality, but one night the accompanying parsley risotto was bland and flavorless -- the 11-year-old at the table pronounced it “rice stained green.” Another night, the elusive note of parsley was more pronounced. A bacon-wrapped tenderloin is gratuitously stuffed with Roquefort cheese. Venison chops -- which replaced a petite serving of roe deer on the menu -- are tender, succulent and hefty. John Dory, quite a generous portion, served with tiny peas and clams, is overcooked, as is a slim dorade fillet, pan-roasted with its skin on.

Like other pastry chefs in Los Angeles, Angela Hunter likes to revisit the sweets of childhood. Her signature molten chocolate cake with a transparent, pale-pink peppermint sauce (made by melting peppermint candies), first seen years ago at Boxer, is still the star of the dessert menu. A compote of dried berries -- the fruit caramelized, warmly spiced -- is served in a buttery filo sack. It’s the sleeper on the menu, a great autumnal dessert. But the pumpkin bread pudding, served in a miniature pumpkin (again!), is dense and dull. An upside-down apple cake is underbaked and doughy. Hunter has reconfigured the classic campfire s‘more into a chocolate tart (with a graham-cracker crust) topped with her handmade marshmallow. Surprisingly, this is not an improvement on the machine-extruded marshmallow. One of the quintessential things about marshmallows is that they are not found in nature; this rich, meringuelike simulacrum lacks that inorganic charm. In this case, a childhood favorite has been intellectualized into a boring dessert.

Chadwick underscores just how hard it is to be a great restaurant, and the thousands of small attentions necessary to produce the grand effect. Though it aspires to be Chez Panisse, it so far more or less succeeds at being the latter-day Michael’s: a lovely place, with a very expensive menu of well-chosen ingredients, and decent if not memorable cooking.

267 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 205-9424. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.--Sat. Dinner entrees $26--$33. Full bar. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Valet parking. Recommended dishes: romaine-hearts salad; sea scallops with succotash; sliced goose with chestnut ragout; chocolate cake with peppermint sauce.

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