EVEN SCROOGE BEGUILED BY TRATTORIA

'Tis the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, and everybody's so sick of Christmas they could scream. But kids, just one more little Christmas story, OK?

This one is about Ebaneeza Scrooge, a restaurant reviewer who was grumpy all the time and never seemed to like anything except occasionally. Many people in the town where she lived--chefs and waitresses, some of the townspeople, and even her editors--wondered what good it did to be almost always saying awful things about restaurants, and even mean old Ebaneeza herself began to think--particularly during the holiday season, good will to men, etc.--that she ought to lighten up a bit.

But fate seemed to be conspiring against her. The very next restaurant she went to was so overpriced, so depressingly decorated, so depressingly empty, that if she were to write about it and say only good things, the review would have gone like this: The food was hot.

But this was, after all, the time of year for miracles, and sure enough, the very next night, she was driving down 3rd Street west of Fairfax when she spied a new restaurant where Lights On used to be, only now it was called La Trattoria. It looked bright and chic and inviting, so she went in, and sure enough, all was tasteful--spare beige and white, with soft, indirect lighting--and the tables were full of nice-looking people all laughing and enjoying themselves. A handsome young Italian waiter with a sweet smile and expressive eyebrows unfurled her napkin, and she began to think that things were, in fact, looking up.

The prices on both the wine list and menu were quite reasonable--all sorts of interesting California and Italian wines, with a top price of $23; grilled chicken for $7.50, and pastas and things like veal chops and grilled shrimp going for $7-$13.

That night and the next when Ebaneeza came back with friends, many dishes were brought to the table, and such was her delight at being in these attractive surroundings that, what with her new positive attitude and all, she tried not to be her fussy self and to think only of the things she enjoyed: al dente penne sauteed in vodka with a pink, tomato-based sauce spiked with the heat of chiles; a little casserole of hot eggplant Parmesan with a beautiful fresh green basil leaf seeming to melt into the mozzarella cheese; a garlic zuppa of mussels and clams, its sauce worth sopping up with the chewy Il Fornaio bread; a good char-broiled veal chop; and, for an astoundingly fair $7.50, delicious, delicate rosemary chicken, snatched from the grill at just the right moment, served with a sprig of the herb, plus buttery carrots and green beans which were nicely crunchy but not, for a change, raw. And, of course, there was that wonderful $22 bottle of 1982 Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Rosso from the slopes to the south of Lake Ideo in Lombardy, which got more delicious the longer it breathed.

Such was her determination to delight in these things that she tried, she really did, not to let her various disappointments bother her: the fact that the wine/ porcini sauce on the veal scalloppine was floury, the veal tough; the shrimp, though fresh, overgrilled; the oil on the antipasti of sauteed eggplant, zucchini and roasted red peppers and on the salad, dull; the cafe au lait served with the airy, if nicely unsweet, chocolate cake for dessert, truly weak and awful.

No, she found herself wishing, with all her heart, that this lovely, comfortable restaurant, with its reasonable prices and friendly attitude, still so new and with its future before it, would realize its ambitions in the coming new year. Because Ebaneeza knew that in her town there was need of such a restaurant--and besides, she'd have something nice to say for a change.

La Trattoria, 8022 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 658-7607. Wine and beer only. Credit cards not accepted until next week. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner nightly. Dinner for two (food only), $30-$50.

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