Someone’s in the Kitchen 

Wednesday, Dec 27 2000

For over a decade NOW, there’s been a trend for new restaurants to offer up old-style comfort foods: mashed potatoes and meat loaves and fruit crumbles meant to evoke the family meals of our collective memory of the time when Mom was doing the cooking. But while places called Eat Well and Home hope to spark hearth-fire flashbacks, the coziest thing about many of them is the nomenclature. One doesn‘t get the feeling there’s someone in the kitchen who actually cares.

Filling this emotionalcomestible void is the reliably wonderful The Kitchen. This little restaurant on the Silver LakeLos Feliz border specializes in American home cooking, the kind of dishes we make -- if we have the time, energy and proficiency -- for ourselves. Only The Kitchen makes them better.

The restaurant‘s two rooms are a pleasant combination of raw and playful, concrete walls painted with mischievous cats (or maybe mice -- hard to tell) wearing toques and zooming around on kitchen utensils. There’s almost always Americana music playing, Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald, and the young, boho staff is sweet and efficient. With the exception of weekend brunch offerings, the lunch and dinner menu doesn‘t vary, and doesn’t need to, as everything on it, from a simple cheeseburger to a sophisticated lamb shank, exceeds expectations.

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Who can get excited about a house salad? You can if it‘s Kitchen Salad, organic greens with the zing of fresh basil and ribbons of fresh beet. Chopped romaine lettuce in a nuggety blue-cheese vinaigrette has the surprise of plantain dust, which gives crackle and a wisp of sweetness. Paired with a cup of either the soup or the stew of the day, these make for a fine, quick, warming lunch. Though who can resist the cheeseburger, the plump 8-ounce patty topped with Cheddar bronzed and bubbly from the broiler, riding on a whole-grain bun? And the fries! Skinny and crisp and generously apportioned, they are the dream fries we always wish we’d be served but rarely are. They accompany the fish and chips as well, a huge swath of beer-battered fried red snapper begging to be plunged into a limy tartar sauce that, I guarantee, you will ask for more of. And I can never resist the calamari, a heap of tiny, delicately fried O‘s served with a silken three-chile dipping sauce.

There are eight main courses, plus whatever specials the chef has whipped up. Recently, two beautifully turned pork chops were served with a cherry-chile reduction and a small mound of homemade applesauce spiked with ginger. This is generous, beautiful, soulful cooking, as is the chicken and dumplings, a big bowl of rich broth brimming with shreds of chicken and crisp vegetables, in which float fluffy dumplings that, miraculously, have not fallen apart. Meat loaf is a hefty carrot-and-onion-studded slice that comes with velvety roasted-garlic mashed potatoes and a brown gravy so fine, you will connive ways to ask chef Grant Mitchell just how, exactly, does he do it. Perhaps my favorite dish is the remarkable risotto and carrots, a variation on macaroni and cheese that blends perfectly cooked risotto with tender bites of carrot, flecks of tomato and buttery goat cheese. It’s Mom, but with a cookbook.

I rarely have room for dessert, but when I do order one, it‘s the flourless chocolate cake, its micron of top-crust giving way to a molten, foamy interior. Though my mother will be loath to hear me say it, I am cooking at home a lot less often these days, because The Kitchen has it all over me. And I don’t have to clear the table or wash the dishes.

4348 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake; (323) 664-FOOD. Open Mon.--Thurs. noon--1 a.m., Fri. noon--3 a.m., Sat. 10 a.m.--3 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m.--1 a.m. Starters $3--$7, entrees $6--$12. BYOB. MC, V.

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