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FIVE FEET MEASURES UP IN SUPERB FASHION.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

IF YOU ASK how the name Five Feet came about at the new restaurant of that name in West Hollywood, your server might answer as ours did.

She said that there are many stories, but the one she likes best is that there are three partners and one has only one leg.

Evidently this story, perhaps a tad politically incorrect in this day and age, is as apocryphal as any other because Five Feet chef-owner Michael Kang has reportedly over the years refused to divulge how and why he picked this name.

Kang's Five Feet began in Orange County in 1985 and built a strong reputation there, which led to a clone in Los Angeles County 17 years later. It is housed in the former Le Colonial building on Beverly Boulevard, where it had a vague '30s Southeast Asian colonial plantation look.

It has been brightened up as Five Feet, still with enough white wicker to expect a white-suited Sidney Greenstreet-type greeter-host, but with its new Asian-French fusion cuisine direction under partner-chef Eric Nguyen and resident chef de cuisine Philip Dubose.

Dishes here are strong in creativity, beautiful in appearance and generous in portioning, three good reasons for trying Five Feet.

But beware of the cost. Because most of the more appealing dinner entrees range in the high $20s and low $30s, you'll find yourself easily spending $50 or $60 a person (with tip, tax and wine) for a complete evening meal. And maybe more.

True there are a couple of economy plates available like sake-cured king salmon ($20) and kung pao chicken ($17). But the really good stuff - like the chef's innovative daily take on Nova Scotia bluefin tuna (around $32) or the best main-course dish on the menu, a whole crispy catfish in hot and sour sauce with leeks and cilantro ($28) - is hard to pass up.

One day there was heavenly melty Dover sole that had been steamed in sake and accompanied by shrimp-studded chow mein noodles, a seasonal vegetable mixture and accents of ginger, black beans, chiles and scallions flavoring the fish. Even at $32, how could anyone resist this?

And there are ``the birds.''

This is what the whimsical Kang calls his duck dishes.

But his Muscovy duck with seared foie gras had been replaced one day by smoked Long Island duck and crispy Cantonese-style duck with a duck and squash rice mixture and wax beans done tempura-style. Yep, it was a darn satisfying platter in its own right and priced the same ($29), but there was a touch of deprivation here.

Another, the luau lamb brings forth meaty, tasty, Kona coffee-glazed chops off the rack along with zingy, juicy, peppered lamb sirloin. This dish ($32) arrives with a bed of crisped potatoes, wild mushrooms and a refreshing watercress salad.

Always plenty to eat.

Especially if you order starters, too.

Mussels and clams with a spicy black bean sauce ($11) are made interesting by being paired with crunchy fried Chinese bread.

Slant-cut rolls ($12), one stuffed with lobster, the other with chicken, plus a couple of dipping sauces, one spicy, one sweet, provide beginning gratification.

Even better is the cut-up giant squid done kung pao style ($10), a delicious first course. Or Dungeness crab, wok-cooked in a rich XO sauce ($19).

As for endings, there's no question regarding the No. 1 choice. It's the actual No. 1, the first one, topping the list of eight, the chocolate creme brulee cake ($10).

Now if this name sounds confusing, it is. It has a creamy soft, almost toffeelike texture on its exterior, but the taste is a good, intense chocolate. There's absolutely no indication of ``torching.''

Inside, it's more ``cakey,'' but seems to possess intriguing layers of flavor and texture.

Enough to make you tingle, whether you're less than, more than, or exactly ... 5 feet tall.

FIVE FEET

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

Where: 8783 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood.

Hours: Open for dinner only from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly, to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Lunch service begins March 25.

Recommended items: Lobster and chicken rolls, kung pao calamari, Dungeness crab in XO sauce, Dover sole steamed in sake, luau lamb, duck two ways, tuna du jour, crispy whole catfish, chocolate creme brulee cake.

How much: Starters from $6 to $14, entrees from $17 to $35, desserts from $8 to $10. Full bar. Major credit cards.

Wine list: Huge, multipage list of wines ($15 to $500 per full bottle) from seemingly everywhere, even Lebanon. Nice selection of handy halottles like '96 Chateau de Pez for $23. Recommended white: Fess Parker's 2000 viognier ($33). Corkage: $15.

Reservations: Suggested. Call (310) 289-0660.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

At Five Feet in West Hollywood, diners may enjoy a salmon plate with wine.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Restaurant Review
Date:Mar 15, 2002
Words:813
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