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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Bistro at Fantasia: A Nice Slice of Continental

The City of Industry looks on the map like a gerrymandered electoral district hugging the Union Pacific tracks. It sounds like a . . . well, a terribly industrial sort of place.

There’s more to it than that, though. At Azusa Avenue there’s the impressive acreage of the Puente Hills Mall. Most evenings, a line of brightly dressed people is likely to be waiting outside a glittering nightclub called Fantasia, right across Albatross Street from that mighty mall. Adjoining Fantasia is a restaurant, the Bistro at Fantasia, which has lured a chef from Beaudry’s, the old Continental place in downtown L.A.

This should tell us two things. One, Industry is up-and-coming, no longer willing to accept culinary dependency on other cities. Two, Fantasia expects its nightclubbers to go for Continental food with modern touches (though the fact that the dining room is wheelchair-accessible suggests it isn’t relying entirely on the dance crowd).

There is clearly some intentional accommodation to nightclub dining habits. Light foods such as sandwiches and omelets are available from the lunch hour clear up until closing time. All the pastas are available in either half or full portions.

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The specials can be a good deal more adventuresome than the regular Continental menu, sometimes exhibiting Southwestern or Cajun tendencies (though there is a blackened catfish on the regular menu). But not always. The special might be something as safe and Continental as sauteed sirloin tips; actually, rather like sirloin tips lightly stir-fried with shallots and zucchini. It satisfies the traditional Continental requirement that food should be tender above every other consideration.

As Continental restaurants go, the Bistro is often very pleasing. For one appetizer, marinated artichoke leaves are mixed with crab meat. For another, huge shrimp are floated on two sauces, ketchup spiked with a little horseradish and a sort of sour cream tartar sauce. The crab-and-jack-cheese quesadilla is impressively large.

And there are nice touches. A steak sandwich comes heavy-laden with fried onions and mushrooms. The soup of the day might be accompanied by a couple of little triangular pies wrapped in filo (“ spanakopita ,” the waiters call them, though technically they’re boreks ), one filled with sauteed mushrooms and the other with densely packed little shrimp.

But of course this isn’t exactly food you’d drive a million miles for. A nice broiled lobster tail weighs a good 12 ounces; a nice piece of swordfish is grilled and served with a little herb butter; nice pieces of beef, shrimp, fish and chicken are grilled and served on a tomato coulis that tastes a tiny bit like barbecue sauce. Rarely do you reach for a stronger word than nice .

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And the kitchen drops the ball often enough. The rigatoni with ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes has little or none of the promised basil, and lies on the plate like a slab of drying library paste. Tournedos is a slightly overdone filet mignon served on top of fried apple slices in a raisin and cider sauce. It’s an over-sweet dish in the Continental tradition of sticking apples where they don’t belong.

The desserts are standard issue: Lemon cake and carrot cake in the usual tall and heavily frosted style, a cheesecake with a strange caramel aftertaste. There is an intense chocolate cake like a brownie with thick fudge frosting, and possibly you might find a special of strawberries and custard sauce sandwiched between sheets of puff pastry, resting on a pool of milk chocolate.

The Bistro isn’t everything, but it proves one thing. You can have a good time in Industry. Or anyway, a nice time.

The Bistro at Fantasia, 17500 Castleton St., City of Industry. (818) 912-6065. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Parking lot. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $25 - $65.

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