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NICK'S RETAINS A LITTLE ZEN.

Byline: LARRY LIPSON

>RESTAURANT CRITIC

Nick's Grill in Studio City is in the same location and under the same ownership as the short-lived Zen Chi.

Nick's reveals a new menu that makes a lot more sense. It retains a few of Zen Chi's Asian-accented items while offering a revised listing of salads, sandwiches (mostly burgers) and wraps, along with an expanded dinner bill of fare.

But don't necessarily expect to find Nick's Grill's phone number listed. It was still using Zen Chi's earlier this week.

And there are no obvious decor changes, either.

The new restaurant also wants to offer somewhat of a morning presence, albeit for late risers, with an omelet and scrambled-eggs menu segment available to lunchtime customers.

Hoping to attract the post-dinner crowd, there are a handful of late-night, small-bite items to pair with a reduced-price beer list and a number of Korean soju cocktails at lowered cost from 9:30 p.m. to midnight.

A du jour soup ($4.95) of mushroom and asparagus with bacon, full of flavor despite being a tad salty, proves the kitchen has talent in that direction. However, a listed soup, chicken vegetable ($4.95), has yet to be available.

Crab taquitos (two for $5.95) served with guacamole are crunchy and good. Steamed Manila clams in a garlicky broth ($8.50 or $14.95), are generously portioned, but some have been cooked to pastiness. And there is no crusty bread accompaniment to be had with them.

Lamb chops ($22.95), one of Nick's grilled signature dishes, though plated with tasty scalloped potatoes and vegetables, display unfortunate toughness.

But a double Angus burger with double cheese and hickory-smoked bacon ($14.50) plus lettuce, tomato and red onion and a bonus heap of curry-flavored sweet potato fries (add $1.50) make for a satisfactory, if pricey, noontime meal, the only flaw being an oily surface on the bun.

A Cobb salad ($10.95) with chicken (or steak), though not presented well, has gratifying taste.

Nick's, it would seem, has plenty of potential.

Hopefully it will be realized soon.

At its best: A decent bowl of soup and an uncomplicated sandwich or salad can be enjoyed here with a chilled bottle of brew like Red Nectar ale ($4.95) or a glass of wine.

Could be better: Servers' knowledge needs improvement. Quality of ingredients (i.e. tender lamb) and availability of crusty bread with soups, salads, steamed clams et al. needs some attention. Presentation needs work; the way the original Cobb salad, for example, was presented at the Hollywood Brown Derby (where it was first served) made it a memorable dish -- and eventually a classic.

NICK'S GRILL

>Where: 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City.

>When: Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, for dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly. Late snack menu from 9:30 to midnight. (818) 760-3890.

>Cost: Appetizers and small plates from $2 to $11, sandwiches and salads from $7.50 to $14.50, entrees from $11.50 to $23, desserts: $6 to $8.

>Noteworthy: Reasonable prices on wine list (as low as $16 per bottle). Attractive entrance featuring a large Buddha and mini-pond.

>Our rating: Two stars

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TOM MENDOZA>STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 20, 2007
Words:550
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