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Ciro’s Pomodoro Still Searching for the Right Image

Times Staff Writer

Ciro’s Pomodoro tries awfully hard to be trendy, perhaps because its neighbor (if you cross Beverly Boulevard on a diagonal) is the Hard Rock Cafe. Pizzas and pastas dominate the menu. The kitchen is open. And there is lots of potential for noise. The first night I tried this new Italian restaurant, soundless rock videos jittered overhead while a soft-rock tape attacked the ear drums. Presently, in came a hostess in what looked like aerobics gear.

But if you have a kinky yearning for tradition instead of the up-to-date stuff, Ciro’s provides that too. Photos of old-time film stars jam the walls. And the menu offers what it claims were the favorite pizzas of Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. (Imagine Rhett Butler romancing Scarlett in a Domino’s outlet.) What do these star-struck pizzas have in common? You guessed it. Ham. Now isn’t that cute?

The dishes I tasted that night also had something in common. Too much salt. The triangles of pizza bread that came with dinner, the pizza itself, the Caesar salad, pardon me, the Giulio Cesare salad, the bow-tie pasta with sundried tomatoes and mushrooms and the lemon-butter-herb sauce that drenched jumbo shrimp were inundated with sodium.

The next visit, things were better. Instead of rock videos, we had the Olympics. Instead of a rock tape, someone played nice piano. The hostess wore a skirt. And the cooks held back the salt. The third time, it was downright quiet--no piano, tapes or videos. The hostess could have gone to a banker’s lunch. And the cooks still held the salt.

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In its first seven months, this restaurant has been fumbling for an image, perhaps to distinguish itself from the original Ciro’s in London and another branch in Milan. (Last week, a fourth Ciro’s opened in Boca Raton, Fla.)

Serious food does not seem the intent. However, a new manager has come on board to sharpen things. And the restaurant has been doing some dishes well right along. To paraphrase Will Rogers, I never met a pasta that I didn’t like at Ciro’s. Even the salty bow ties had wonderful flavor. Another good one is pink peppercorn pasta with roasted bell peppers, shrimp and blueberry vinaigrette. How’s that for trendy? The blueberry vinaigrette was hard to detect, because this was a creamy sauce, stronger on garlic than berries, but it was luscious.

Tagliatelle comes with a juicy pesto sauce, and penne alla vodka gets a smooth, garlicky, tomato coating. I couldn’t taste the vodka, but that is supposed to be one of its attributes. Gnocchi is well worth ordering. The tender little dumplings come in three flavors--plain, spinach and tomato, and the sauce includes four cheeses--smoked and buffalo mozzarellas, ricotta and Parmesan. There’s a hint of tarragon too.

Ciro’s has a couple of fine salads. Insalata tricolore is a pretty blend of shredded radicchio, Belgian endive and arugula decorated with thin cucumber slices. The waiter confessed that the dressing, a sweet, fruity, pear vinaigrette, came in a jar. This earned him a high mark for honesty. And the dressing still tasted good. Watercress tossed with ricotta cheese, pine nuts and walnut vinaigrette is another good combination.

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There are “serious” entrees such as grilled free-range chicken with basil and wild mushroom sauce, but these couldn’t lure me away from the pastas. The pizzas are average, maybe a little better than that, but not memorable. The only dessert I tried was tiramisu, which was in poor shape that night. And the wine list is a flimsy little thing that soon will be discarded for a better selection.

Sample prices: The watercress salad is $5.50; the gnocchi, $10.50; the penne alla vodka, $9.50, and the pizzas range from $6.50 to $9.25. Portions are large so that one salad, or perhaps the antipasto ($7.50) and a pasta, could easily serve two.


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