Thursday, December 5, 2002
Lallapalooza is a great place to meet for after-work drinks. Whenever I get together with friends, for a birthday or no reason at all, someone always suggests it. It''s strategically located at one end of Alvarado, the Martinis are great, and it''s always hopping without spilling over into the elbow-in-your-gut crush that regularly occurs across the street at the Mucky Duck.
There''s another good reason to go to Lallapalooza: They serve the world''s largest appetizers. The Giant Chicken Quesadilla ($8.50)-my usual order-is as big as a large pizza, and is mighty tasty. It easily serves five or six people just looking for a "bite of something" before the main meal. The Spicy Prawns ($10.95), which I tried for the first time last week, is more substantial than many restaurants'' entrees.
But for all the times I''d gone to Lallapalooza for drinks, I''d never gone there specifically for dinner. That changed last week, when I picked up Biff and the Princess in my souped-up Toyota for a night on the town at Lalla''s.
It was 7pm on a Monday, but all the tables for four were filled in the more desirable front two rooms, close to the bar. The maitre d'' escorted us, with apologies, to the painfully empty back room (at Manhattan''s Russian Tea Room they call it Siberia, and anyone seated there knows their social cachet has just dropped ten points). What could we do, besides hope that none of our happening friends would see us there, far from the laughter and clink of happy glasses, dejectedly digging into our bread basket?
But oh, what bread-a soft, warm, doughy Foccacia bread, crusted with rosemary and olive oil. Dip it into the garlic-infused butter, share a bottle of wine and call it dinner.
But we had two appetizers coming, even before our meal, so we only allowed the waiter to bring us a second basket-no thirds tonight. The Spicy Prawns were scrumptious, "drizzled with chili oil and fire-roasted on rosemary skewers," according to the menu. All three of us loved the coconut-based pink sauce, and appreciated the generous portion of rice with which to sop up every bit. The all-vegetarian Thai Spring Rolls ($7.25) were too large to pick up, prepared like a sushi hand-roll rather than the usual cigar-shaped variety. Piping hot, they tasted incredible; when they cooled off, though, they were dripping in oil. Eat ''em fast, with plenty of the garlic dipping sauce.
After the apps, we were ready to pack it in. But lo! The entrees arrived, with a flourish. The Princess, feeling quirky, had ordered the Petrale Sole with Grapes ($16.95). I chose Lallapalooza''s Ultimate Indulgence, a 14-oz. New York Steak with bourbon peppercorn sauce ($27.95), and Biff, a regular, insisted on his favorite Linguine with Roasted Garlic Chicken ($13.95).
If we thought the appetizers were big, that was only because we had not yet met our entrees. My steak was draped over an enormous mountain of mashed potatoes, the British flag raised on Everest. When the waiter placed it before me, its ends nearly trailed in my lap. The Princess'' plate held three hefty filets of fish, also draped artistically over what must have been an entire bag of roast potatoes and steamed carrots.
"Nothing''s small here except wine by the glass," whispered the Princess, pouring liberally from our bottle of J.Lohr Cab.
Once we got past the size issue, it was time to evaluate what we were eating. Overall, we''d have done better to stay with the appetizers. Although Lallapalooza touts itself as a steak house, steaks are better elsewhere: the Whaling Station comes immediately to mind, but that''s only the top of a long list. My steak was tough and overcooked, and the cut was somewhat tasteless, although the strong sauce tried to mask it. For $27.95, I deserved better. The gentle flavor of the Petrale sole was overpowered by its red grape sauce-an odd choice, Biff and I thought, for such a delicate fish, although the Princess defended it valiantly, and we all three admired the chef for trying. Biff''s pasta, however, couldn''t have been better: a decent portion of fresh linguine coated in just the right amount of herb cream sauce with oven-dried tomatoes and large chunks of garlic-roasted chicken breast. Too many restaurants drown their pasta in an overly milky cream sauce-this one stuck to the pasta strands just as it should.
All our vegetables were lovely, from the baby carrots cooked until just tender and seved with a mere hint of butter and dill, to the gently roasted baby red potatoes. The only minor chord was my bowl of creamed spinach, a gooey concoction which was not at all appealing. I did, however, appeal to the waiter, who admitted that the steaks used to come with a side of sauteed fresh spinach. The creamed spinach is a recent replacement, he said, and-he looked sheepish-hardly anyone eats it. As well they should not.
In sum, Lallapalooza''s kitchen clearly loves color, salt, and big, bold, in-your-face flavors-like a kid drawing with those oversized Crayola crayons, rather than the more nuanced shades that might be achieved with colored pencils. It''s an approach that works very well with the appetizers-an explosion of flavors is just the ticket when that''s all you''re eating, and when one dish has to stand up to whatever the entire group is drinking.
So go to Lallapalooza''s, drink up, and enjoy the great appetizers, sandwiches and pastas. If you''re going to spend $60 per person, as we did that night, spend it on the Martinis.