Diner's Notebook

Style over Substance
I was charmed into visiting Baroque, a recent restaurant addition to the artsy shopping mecca of Sunset Boulevard, by outward appearances.
First, I was excited about its location. Hurray for the gutsy restaurateur, I thought, who was willing to brave the ghost of the epically popular Ouisie's Table, which was formerly located next door. Next, I was attracted by its look. The narrow storefront and ornately painted balustrade embracing an intimate upstairs balcony beckoned to the Europhile in me. Studying the restaurant's facade, I couldn't help but entertain a brief fantasy that some balmy spring evening, diners on the balcony might be surprised by the appearance below of a gondolier lazily poling his way down a canal. My curiosity was further aroused when, peeking into a window, I saw several colossal crystal chandeliers hanging in a row -- each of them completely different. What, I wondered, to make of a designer audacious enough to do that?

Truth is, Baroque's owners appear to have decided to go all out and have some fun with the theme of their restaurant. Gorged with elements of exaggerated classicism from its namesake period's architecture, the interior of the restaurant threatens to overwhelm the eye. But the close observer will realize that the design is actually a gentle spoof. The murals are a bit too colorful, the immense pillars gilt entirely in silver a trifle too brash, the spangled chandeliers a tad too extreme to be a true homage to the baroque. No, these people are having fun with style.

Too bad the playfulness of the design doesn't spill over to the menu selections or to the food preparation. Brimming with the sort of Continental cuisine basics that were the standards of elegant dinner parties in the '50s and '60s, the menu takes itself far too seriously. Or, perhaps, not seriously enough. Consider the prices: $12.50 is the average cost of a luncheon special. In this price range, the food should be outstanding in some regard. But the chicken parmigiana, smothered in tomato sauce and congealed mozzarella, appeared to have been stuck under a warming lamp for two minutes too long. And the soup du jour, which sounded so tempting when described by the waiter as a jambalaya of smoked duck sausage and grilled chicken, consisted of a watery tomato-based broth in which swam much chicken and very little duck. Broiled Atlantic salmon, other than being prettily served with a generous sprig of fresh dill resting atop it, was, well, boring. And my companion aptly observed that he worries about snow peas -- here served alongside each entree -- that appear too oily. Granted, none of the food was remarkably awful, but it certainly didn't live up to the extravagance of its setting nor to the tastefully high standards of its neighborhood.

I'm afraid that without a quick overhaul in the kitchen, Baroque may soon become as defunct as the era that inspired it. -- Kelley Blewster

Baroque, 1700 Sunset Boulevard, 523-8881.

chicken parmigiana, $10;
Atlantic salmon with dill sauce, $13.

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