Dan Tana's: Pasta Till 1 A.M.

Times Staff Writer

Dan Tana's is the kind of place you'd expect to find Mickey Spillane hunched over the bar, legs crossed, cigarette flipping over to the other side of the mouth and asking for a double Scotch.

It's the kind of place that lures restless spirits late at night from their haunts to resuscitate over a good gin and tonic, a plate of pasta or a good look at the guys and dolls who always look good. Dan Tana's is one of the few restaurants in Hollywood whose kitchen and bar is open until 1 a.m.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the people-watching at Tana's rates 10--plenty of flesh and hair, lots of dames and a movie crowd that looks as if it was costumed for a film noir.

Tana used to be an actor, turned producer, and there is plenty of two-cheek kissy-kissy stuff going on from table to table, the way they do in Rome or Cannes. No tourists here.

But you can sort of take it all in sitting at the bar, where the view is best. You'll also get a good view of the bordello-red wallpaper, red leather booths, Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, the flickering of candles on the red checkered-clothed tables. You'll see the pantomime of tossed Caesar salad at table side--a disappearing art that should be relished while it still lasts.

Sitting in a cozy, comfy corner of the "in" room, where movie moguls make their best deals and some of the friendliest professional waiters serve, I ordered spaghetti and meatballs. Jimmy Cano, the maitre d', looked down at me over his Ben Franklin specks and said, "Take the veal Parmigiana. It comes with spaghetti Bolognese. We'll throw a meatball on it just to keep you happy." The pasta plates are heaping, he reminded me. Like Mt. Vesuvius.

Anyway, I got the meatball smack in the middle of the side dish of spaghetti Bolognese.

It's the kind of sauce Southern Italians in the neighborhood near where I grew up called gravy. The meatball was the grainy type that crumbles into fine particles in your mouth, just the way you'd find in Little Italy or at Mamma Leona's on a Sunday afternoon in New York.

Tana's chef of 20 years, Mate Mustac, who, like Tana, is from the Adriatic in Yugoslavia, is a fairly accurate translator of Southern Italian cuisine of the type you find in New York, which is slightly different from the Southern Italian cooking you find in Southern Italy, or anywhere, for that matter.

A linguine with clam sauce that passed under my nose smelled great. Another linguine dish loaded with shellfish and clams also sailed by. I began to think maybe I should have ordered the linguine. But the Parmigiana was keeping me busy. It was a huge portion with a lake of melted cheese floating over the saucy top.

The antipasto, which comes with a complete dinner ($6 extra with soup, entree and coffee), has a big black olive on top that I especially like. The caponata is good too. The Tana special salad is a close cousin of the antipasto, only tossed.

You'll need to hit Lotto to order the steak. It's $30. There are other choices, however. The menu is loaded with pastas in the $12 to $16 range, including a baked mostaccioli I was tempted to order, but didn't because it is so rich with cheese. Then there is fettuccine Alfredo or carbonara I'd like to order when I can afford the calories. When I'm dieting, I usually go for the vermicelli with basil and fresh tomatoes. Low calories, high price: $16.

Everyone I've talked to about Tana's says Tana's has some of the freshest fish on the block. I can vouch for the calamari and clams. The white fish Evelina, the chef's specialty, was excellent when I took a bite from a friend's fork.

If you like veal, I would definitely try the piccata or the saltimbocca (veal scallop topped with proscuitto and sage). They are dishes that have passed the test of time with flying colors.

In fact, most of the stuff on the menu hasn't changed since Tana opened 25 years ago. What that tells you is that everything on the menu has been through the mill of discernment by some of the most finicky eaters in the country. Why else would a restaurant with just 20 tables be packed at midnight. Don't ask me. I just eat there. I mean, dine there.

Dan Tana's, 9071 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood. (213) 275-9444. Open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. seven days. Reservations essential. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking available. Average entree $16. Full bar.

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