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BUILT FOR COMFORT DOUG ARANGO'S SURE TO PLEASE - AT A PRICE.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

IF COMFORT FOOD is really what today's restaurant-goer wants most, then Doug Arango's, new in West Hollywood, has nothing to worry about.

What could be more comforting than shepherd's pie?

This staple of the British table, ground meat (often leftovers), with carrots and leeks (or onions and peas) topped with mashed potatoes and baked, is about as homey and comforting as a dish can get.

At Arango's, it's served hot out of the oven for $16.

It's also the lowest-priced entree, unless you count pastas as entrees, on the menu.

And to show the disparity of prices in restaurants today, the price of a Belvedere ``appletini'' was $12.50 that same night, only a $3.50 difference from a main course.

Meanwhile, Doug Arango's, a restaurant that gained repute in Palm Desert before relocating here in the former Yujean Kang's/Alberto's building, has done wonders with the interior, giving it an airy, brighter look. It has a huge, free-form bar that sits in front of a view kitchen. A cozy fireplace area lends warmth to the dining room while a glassed, walk-in wine cellar shows off the restaurant's commitment to the good grape.

The restaurant's name is a tribute to deceased family member Arango, a well-credited television writer-producer who inspired his young relatives to open a restaurant in the Coachella Valley 13 years ago.

It is owned and operated by a foursome: the Bennetts - Julie and Chris (she takes care of the front of the house; he, actually a cousin of Doug Arango, is the executive chef) - and Julie's siblings, Paula and Robert Evans (she being the business manager and he the wine director).

Arango's is a friendly place. Lots of smiles and enthusiastic attention.

The food is, for the most part, familiar, well-defined, and skillfully and artfully prepared.

If you're a liver-and-onions lover, for example, you'll thoroughly enjoy chef Bennett's version ($22), cooked exactly as you want it, accompanied by excellent mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and a slice of crunchy smoked bacon. Very comforting indeed.

Bennett's kitchen bakes thin, crispy pizza crusts with a choice of five toppings, from a simple cheese version ($10) to one with the house-produced sausage, roasted red pepper and Kalamata olives ($14). We chose the caramelized onion, pear and gorgonzola cheese pizza ($12) one night as an appetizer. More good comfort.

But the significant signature starter here is definitely the zucchini pancakes ($12), light and lilting, caped with fine smoked salmon from Scotland and a daub of scallion sour cream. Comfort and joy for the holidays and every day.

Pastas, which run as low as a vodka-flavored, tomato-sauced penne dish ($14), are highlighted by ravioli stuffed with butternut squash ($22, half-order $11). The ravioli are delightfully fluffy, brushed with browned butter and sage, and come forth resting in a light tomato broth.

An especially satisfying entree, rack of Colorado lamb ($31) emerges as at least three juicy chops angled provocatively and usually accompanied by green and gold beans.

There's also a hearty offering of sausage and peppers with rapini ($18), plus a delectable, crisp-coated whitefish recipe ($25).

And the crispness continues in a sauteed organic chicken breast rendition ($24) that, together with those good mashed potatoes and vegetables, provides satisfaction and comfort with a capital C.

As for endings, pies, cakes and tarts ($7 each) on the dessert list change daily. One time it was a respectable pie with an apple mixture that sufficed, another evening it was a ricotta flan that nicely capped the evening's meal.

Call it a truly comforting experience.

Larry Lipson, (818) 713-3668

larry.lipson(at)dailynews.com

DOUG ARANGO'S

Food: Three and one half stars - Wine: Three stars - Service: Three stars

Where: 8826 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood.

Hours: Open for dinner from 6 to 11 p.m. nightly except Sunday. Lunch service will be introduced early in 2004.

Recommended items: Zucchini pancakes, butternut squash ravioli, pear and gorgonzola pizza, whitefish, crispy chicken breast, liver and onions, shepherd's pie, sausage and rapini, rack of lamb, ricotta flan.

How much: Starters from $6 to $14, pastas and entrees from $14 to $31, desserts $7 each. Full bar. Major credit cards.

Wine list: Huge list of some 350 bottlings, a few in the $20 range. You'll be served in Reidel glassware if you pay $55 per bottle or more. Offers half-bottles and large bottles. Corkage: $15.

Reservations: Suggested. Call (310) 278-3684.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Chris Bennett, executive chef and owner of Doug Arango's, presents a Michaelmas salad and rack of lamb entree.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:U; Review
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 19, 2003
Words:760
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