The Canyon Café's basket of chips was legendary, but now it's gone.

Chipped Away 

The Canyon Café's basket of chips was legendary, but now it's gone.

Sometimes a restaurant can be too good to its customers. The Plaza restaurant that used to be the Canyon Café (4626 Broadway) is a perfect example. Customers who cruised in for that venue's Southwestern fare were treated to more than an ordinary basket of tortilla chips and bottled salsa; instead, a year ago, the perfectionist chef Douglas Czufin created the chip basket to end all chip baskets. It was an assortment of homemade blue corn chips, puffy wonton triangles and crispy sweet-potato chips served with freshly made salsa and a fiery house-made tomatillo sauce.

The problem was that some customers were coming in for a meal of chips, a couple of sodas and maybe a shared appetizer. After a while, the Canyon Café's generosity was more than a loss leader -- it was big ol' loss. That's one reason the restaurant's trio of owners -- Czufin, Bruce Lazarus and managing partner Eric Parrinello -- dumped the Canyon Café concept and spent some dough revamping the interior (new carpet, new booths, new paint, new Ansel Adams photographs) in order to reopen the place as the Lodge Bar & Grille.

But there were other reasons why the Canyon Café got the ax. "The public perception of the place was that the food was good but the service was terrible," says Parrinello, who has replaced the previous wait staff (which was terrible, by the way) and is working hard to change any lingering perceptions about the place.

The first-floor dining room still looks like a set from The Big Valley -- if the servers looked like young versions of Lee Majors or Linda Evans, that would really change perceptions -- and the menu has been pared down to 12 moderately priced entrées that include a salad. Parrinello says they're changing the menu every six weeks, but I did notice at least three Canyon Café standards (such as the applewood-smoked salmon) still part of Czufin's repertoire. Ditto the "snakebite beans." I tasted only one of the newer offerings, a buffalo flank steak in a demi-mole sauce, and thought it was very good. And cheap.

Parrinello is hot on bargains right now, and there are some pretty incredible wine specials every day, for those who like a first-class vintage with their saffron chicken and chile mashed potatoes.

Parrinello's crew recently relit the gas torches in front of the restaurant (though the neighbors reportedly loathe the smell) and revived the popular happy hour in the upstairs lounge. But that other drawing card isn't coming back. Parrinello says the chips are down.

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