Tried and True at San Remo

Times Staff Writer

Nothing very trendy, just good Italian-American classics are served at San Remo Italian Restaurant and Pizza. Oh, and baby back pork barbecued ribs. "The chef must like them," quipped my friend.

This newest of two San Remo Italian restaurants was opened about eight months ago. For years the space had been occupied by a coffee shop, but few vestiges have survived the remodeling. The current dark green and burgundy decor is subtly lit in the evening by chandeliers and wall sconces.

Booths line the perimeter of the restaurant and dark wooden tables and straight-backed chairs fill the center. Plants on tables, as well as around the room, add a fresh note. Artwork on the walls is on consignment from the gallery next door.

A small bar area occupies one corner at the back of the room. Imported and domestic beer and wine are offered. The Italian Pinot Grigio and Chianti Classico at $2.50 per glass were preferred over the domestic house wines for $1.

The menu offers three traditional antipastos--prosciutto with melon, an antipasto salad for two and the affettata all'Italiana for two with assorted Italian cold cuts and marinated mushrooms and eggplant.

A green mussel appetizer special one evening looked very tempting, but we opted to start with a pizza. The small (12-inch) turned out to be more like a meal than an appetizer, even for two. A medium (14-inch) and large (16-inch) are also available, all thick crusted and slathered with flavorful tomato sauce. Recommended is the San Remo special with pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, onions and optional anchovies.

We did try another of the nightly specials, linguine al pesto . The fresh pesto sauce was well prepared and the pasta ideally cooked al dente. On another occasion, homemade manicotti stuffed with ricotta cheese and served with marinara sauce got excellent reviews.

Classic spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo, linguine with clam sauce and gnocchi with meat sauce all have the option of substituting marinara sauce or aglio-olio. Mushrooms and meatballs may be added.

Entrees are priced a la carte or as a dinner that includes soup, salad, side of pasta and garlic bread. Tops of those we tasted was the salcicce con pepperoni verdi, homemade sausage flavored with anise and sauced with tomatoes, green and sweet red peppers, onions and mushrooms. The veal piccata, however, was very tender with a well-balanced sauce.

Eggplant and veal parmigiana, veal and chicken cacciatore, veal Marsala and scampi San Remo--such tried-and-true favorites make up the remainder of the menu. As for the baby back pork barbecued ribs, we never got around to trying them.

Ordering a la carte one evening gave us the chance, however, to sample the San Remo salad for two. It featured marinated eggplant and mushrooms, which we were told are prepared on the premises, along with lettuce, tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and whole cloves of garlic. The oversalty eggplant brought one of our few criticisms.

The dessert category lists a special daily selection of cake, which one evening included their version of tira mi su. It was a bit more like a torte than those served at some restaurants, but certainly very acceptable. Other choices include spumoni, tortone and tartufo.

An only slightly less extensive menu is offered at lunch. The $6.75 daily special offered Monday through Friday rotates entrees and includes soup or salad, garlic bread, glass of wine or soft drink.

Service at San Remo is generally good, thanks mostly to their head waiter. The way he oversees the room and rest of the crew is a study in service itself. If you don't care for something, he's right there offering an alternative. We left this restaurant with every intention of going back.

San Remo Italian Restaurant and Pizza, 13714 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks, (818) 789-1199. Lunch served Monday through Friday, from noon to 2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly from 5:30 to 10:30p.m.. No credit cards accepted. Lot parking. Dinner entrees from $5.75 to $12.95.

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