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Cafe Tartine: California-Style Trattoria

Times Staff Writer

Cafe Tartine is a casual little restaurant in Woodland Hills, ideal for a weeknight dinner or a leisurely weekend lunch. The tiny restaurant is so dwarfed by a large motor lodge to the west and two huge shopping centers on the opposite side of Ventura Boulevard, however, that it’s very easy to overlook.

So much so that on my first evening visit I had to pull over and search the block where the addresses were close to the one I’d scribbled down after calling for directions. Finally I spotted a pink glow flooding out from the French doors with arched windows of the restaurant.

In addition to the rose-hued lighting, some of which comes from the neon pizza, pastry and espresso signs on one interior wall, there are pink walls and pink overtones in the marble floor. These are accented by white woodwork, chairs and planters filled with trailing green pothos plants.

The 18 tables are covered with floral-patterned oilcloth and white paper place mats. The bar accommodates another eight patrons. In pleasant weather you can also sit at one of the five tables outdoors in a walled patio, although Ventura Boulevard doesn’t exactly have the same ambiance as an Italian piazza.

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A trattoria- style menu includes salads, appetizers, sandwiches, pasta, pizzas and a few entrees. There are also nightly specials, which on one occasion included spaghettini-style pasta topped with ground turkey and mushrooms in a tomato wine sauce. The chef did an excellent job of flavoring the inherently bland poultry, but the dish would have been even better if some freshly grated Parmesan cheese had been available to sprinkle over the top.

The charbroiled whole breast of chicken entree had been marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and spices and perfectly grilled, so it was still moist and succulent. The same was true of the mahi-mahi evening special. Both were accompanied by pea pods and julienned carrots, cooked beautifully tender-crisp and served with very little seasoning. Unfortunately, the diced potatoes were soggy instead of crisp, and heavy on the pepper.

On another visit we sampled the picante pizza--thin-crusted and topped with fresh tomato, garlic, onion, mushrooms, mozzarella and spicy lamb sausage (which was not all that spicy). The calzone was filled with sauteed spinach, feta, ricotta and mozarella cheeses and a choice of chicken or ham. Try it with the ham; the chicken was too bland.

Also recommended is the rice salad, a cobb-style, finely chopped melange of lettuce, fresh vegetables and chicken, accented with ginger root and tossed with vinaigrette dressing. The angel-hair pasta with tomato basil sauce was also very acceptable.

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Encouragement to Diet?

Round dinner rolls, quartered almost through and heated with a dab of butter in the center, are served with the salads, pastas and entrees. I would have liked the option of having more butter, but none was offered and I didn’t ask.

If I had, it probably would have been served, because the staff at Cafe Tartine seems very willing to please. They’re young, fresh and polite, and what they lack in professionalism, they make up in sincerity.

To accompany your meal there is a selection of varietal wines by the glass, priced between $2.50 and $4, and bottled wines from $9 to $15. We enjoyed the St. Martin French Chardonnay.

Ditto for several of the seven variations of espresso and cappuccino, especially the mocha glace (espresso, chocolate ice cream, milk and whipped cream), which was more dessert than drink.

As for actual desserts, there are four standards on the menu and an additional selection in their refrigerated case. Some are made on the premises, including the peach and raspberry chantilly--a large goblet of vanilla ice cream with a bit of cake, peach and raspberry puree, whipped cream and ground pistachios.

Cafe Tartine, 21826 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 887-6353. Open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. All major credit cards accepted. No reservations. Lot and street parking. Pastas and pizzas, $6 to $7.25; entrees, $6 to $9.50.


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