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RESTAURANTS : ‘NOUVELLE’ EPIDEMIC PLAGUES L.A.

A rash of “nouvelle” restaurants continues to spread in Los Angeles. The worst outbreak is a place called Georgie’s Bar and Grill, a new restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. This place looks like the real thing: the color scheme--pastels, bits of pink and green neon shooting here and there on a high ceiling; the decor, post-modernist as interpreted by Aahs; the paintings, Jackson Pollock as interpreted by Tinker Bell.

But the food--which is served in huge portions--is as numbing as the Muzak potpourri of Gershwin, Dylan and the Beatles. A lamb shank drowns in salty brown gravy. Bay scallops sink into a yellow goo that tastes like a recipe using canned Cheddar and mushroom soups. A hard, cold mozzarella and tomato salad drowns in Italian dressing, like a deli sandwich without the bread. Dessert tastes like a sponge would taste if you were ever inclined to eat one--which you very might well be if it were presented to you in the form of a wedge of pineapple upside-down cake.

How can it look like food but not taste like food? The restaurant’s press materials may provide a clue: Georgie’s chef, Alois Raidl, is former owner of Gourmet Proppers, a company specializing in prop food for the motion picture and television industry.

Moving southward to Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles, there’s a new addition to the L’Express chain, with its two Valley locations. This one, like the others, is all black glass and red neon; its interior, multileveled cement. If the Sports Connection were a restaurant, it would be L’Express. Again, the menu, which includes advertisements as well as listings of food, reads like a catalogue of current trends: gourmet pizzas and pasta, all kinds of wonderful-sounding fish and chicken entrees. But again, the food is a bastardization of “nouvelle.” The pizza, for example, comes with an entire artichoke salad dumped on top. Still, that grand old American standby, the hamburger, comes big and fat, and not at all bad, and is accompanied by French fries at least as good as McDonald’s.

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These restaurants could both learn a lesson from the latest Santo Pietro, on Ventura Place in Studio City. Located on the ground floor of a black-glass office building in a room that could as easily have housed the branch of a bank, it has left its lines clean, has an elegant simplicity of white tablecloths, tables in neat rows, occasional Ficus trees. The food is nouvelle Italian, and while not the best of its ilk, it’s very nice. A plate of deliciously garlicky little rolls called rossettis starts the meal. Mussels with black fettuccine come in a garlicky marinara sauce that’s been made with care. Eggplant Parmesan manages to be tasty without being heavy and oily, and its nice light marinara sauce is topped with green shreds of fresh basil.

And, like Spago, the mother of L.A. nouvelle, Santo Pietro is a prime place for star gazing--at least at lunchtime. MTM is right down the street, and since the film studio’s cafeteria is closed, this restaurant is the company’s unofficial commissary. How else to explain that table full of men in blue wearing NYPD uniforms on a recent Wednesday afternoon? Actors from “Hill Street Blues,” of course.

Georgie’s Bar and Grill, 16624 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 986-2237. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday. Full bar. MasterCard, Visa, American Express. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$45.

L’Express, 11620 Wilshire Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 477-3463. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$50.

Santo Pietro, 12001 Ventura Place, Studio City, (818) 508-1177. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Dinner for two, food only, $40-$60.


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