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RESAURTANT REVIEW : Fresh From the Factory, Pasta From Florentyna’s Made to Eat In or Take Out

The handwriting is on the windowpanes: “Mafalda Rotelli Natural Foods Fettuccini,” and on and on . . . pasta names wrapping around the side of the building. Welcome, benvenuto , to Florentyna’s Fresh Pasta Factory.

The name is no mere motif. Florentyna’s really is a pasta factory that supplies several local restaurants, and there’s a sort of industrial look to the place--plain white walls, unapologetic shelves of paper and supplies behind the cash register, and a big wall menu that looks like the directory of an office building, in which a new plastic name strip can be inserted whenever there’s a vacancy.

Understandably, the emphasis is on takeout pasta (cooked or raw) and catering, and the pasta and salad displays have a sort of wholesale outlet feel: What shape do you want your pasta? Do you want it red, white, black, brown, green? How about black pepper in the dough? Want some sauce with that? Marinara, Alfredo, pesto, Bolognese--what’s your choice?

However, this is a restaurant as well. There are eight or nine tiny tables and a cheerful, overworked waiter who gets to them as fast as he can. You don’t exactly find roses and linen, or--to get down to cases--a wine list, but you can sit and eat quite comfortably, polishing off the meal with espresso.

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And as the “Natural Foods” message in the window suggests, Florentyna’s is aware that pasta appeals not only to gourmets but the sort of people to whom it’s not a party if the word “natural” is not invited. Cast an eye over the room and you’ll see a scattering of pepper-and-salt beards and mature-cut blue jeans among these tables, and even a little literature rack featuring a New Age newsletter. Search the wall menu (not the printed menu, for some reason), and you’ll definitely find whole-wheat lasagna with tofu filling.

Florentyna’s pasta is quite good, with a fresh flavor and often a particularly satiny texture. The most luxurious texture treat is mafalde, narrow, ripple-edged pasta that are sometimes given the very descriptive name “frills.” The stuffed pastas include flat ravioli, twisted tortellini and a sort of rectangular ravioli that Florentyna’s calls “pillows,” marked with soft, rippling fins or flanges along its length. Cheese, chicken or beef fillings are available, except for the pillows, which are made only with cheese.

People who buy raw pasta can only order from a relatively short list of sauces to take home. The cooked pastas have a lot more variety. Fettuccine can be ordered topped with chicken paprikash, or a reasonable facsimile; pasta California comes with an avocado sauce. There’s a vegetarian curry pasta (not on the printed menu) with broccoli, carrots, squash and sweet peppers in a medium-hot curry sauce with a bit of coconut in it.

Pasta cicciolina consists of light, satiny mafalde in a vegetarian tomato sauce the menu calls hot and spicy. For once, an Italian menu can be taken seriously when it warns that a sauce is hot. This one really burns.

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There’s also a dish of rotelli topped with eggplant (not to be confused with the eggplant Parmesan served with pasta on the side), but mostly the pastas are more familiar. The mozzarella and ricotta filling of the regular lasagna is not massive and rich; the emphasis is rather on the smooth, delicious pasta and the hearty, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Cannelloni alla Rossini is luscious pasta with a cheese and spinach filling, but in this case the tomato sauce is itself topped with a bit of cream sauce.

The best of the pastas by far is the chicken linguine. It’s nothing stunningly original, but the chicken breast, mushrooms and linguine are mixed with an irresistible cream and white wine sauce mixed with pesto. Black pasta in red clam sauce, however, has a somewhat disappointing sauce, rather coy with the clam flavor.

There are only a few non-pasta things here: a couple of hero sandwiches, some salads (somehow they tend to be pasta salads, and in fact to resemble the pasta entrees). And the dessert list is very short.

There’s an exotic Italian apple cake, call it an apple pie with very short crust and a filling mixed with raisins and walnuts. The ricotta cheesecake is definitely made with ricotta, and the bland, rather dry flavor is perhaps an acquired taste. The flan, baked in an aluminum cup, tends to be tough and overdone.

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But you didn’t come here for dessert, did you? Enjoy your pasta. And Thank You for Not Smoking.

Recommended dishes: chicken linguine, $6.95; stuffed pillows, $5.95; pasta cicciolina, $4.95; Italian apple cake, $1.75.

Florentyna’s Fresh Pasta Factory, 601 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. (213) 458-2829. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday until 8:30 p.m. No alcoholic beverages. Street parking. No credit cards. Lunch for two, food only, $13 to $25.


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