RESTAURANT REVIEWS : A Breath of Fresh Air at Porta Via

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A couple of days after my first meal at Porta Via, the little Italian sidewalk cafe and takeout counter in Beverly Hills closes for earthquake repairs: a cruel trick. I can’t stop thinking about a wild mushroom and spinach lasagna and an unbelievable scone, and the place is shut up tight. The alleged two-week repair takes months. I don’t forget. And then, one day, there’s the prettily refurbished cafe, open for business with a new marble counter, fresh paint and adorable waiters. Is it as good as I remember, or was I dreaming?

We sit outside at a sidewalk table under an umbrella. A breeze whips down the street. Women from the nearby beauty parlor stop in mid-dye job for a low-fat blueberry muffin. Three teen-age girls pile out of mom’s Range Rover and take the table next to us.

We split a juicy arugula salad with lemony dressing: perfect. The prosciutto sandwich packs a lot of flavor although the ham is only a subtle note with all the tapenade and mozzarella, greens and thick ciabatta bread. Latini-brand spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce is expertly tossed by a young cook in a red baseball cap on backward. So far so good.


I return, this time for takeout. There’s no distinct to-go menu yet, so I consult the glass display case and the staff for options. Rotisserie chickens are plump, moist, well-seasoned. Served at room temperature, they’re a great summer supper with an oniony white bean salad and grilled vegetables.

Porta Via’s vegetarian lasagnas bear little resemblance to the usual striated glop we’re fed. These are simple, harmonious assemblages of cheese and vegetables mediated by supple, hand-rolled noodles. And yes, the earthy wild mushroom and spinach lasagna, bound by sweet fresh mozzarella, is every bit as clear and compelling as I remembered. Different, but equally enchanting (once you get over the color), is lasagna made with nubbly cauliflower, ricotta and velvety, neon-orange pumpkin puree.

Save room for dessert: poundcake with a cold plum sauce, soft crinkly ginger cookies, or chocolate cookies so dark and intense you get lost in them. The spice coffee cake is a bit dry, and muffins are fine. Scones, however, are among the best in town: Dense triangular wedges shot through with black currants and orange zest, they’re short, but not too short, and have just the right edge of salt.

* Porta Via, 424 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6534. Open 7:30 a.m. - 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. No alcohol served. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Lunch for two, food only, $12 - $42.

EuroPane Bakery Rises to the Occasion

Sumi Chang, Campanile’s former breakfast chef, has opened her own small one-woman bakery in Pasadena--and boy, is that town lucky.

Located far enough east of Old Town to be in the realm of easy parking, EuroPane is tucked into a complex of ethnic and fast-food restaurants and copy stores. Don’t blink, you’ll pass the narrow entry.


The walls are gray, restful; a few tables and a counter sit in a cove of windows. Bach and Van Morrison take turns on the sound system. This is just the stop for a classic coffee break or a quick bite.

The chalkboard menu is modest: two or three sandwiches, coffees, Italian sodas. The real choice sits below, in the bakery case.

My advice to you is, try everything, especially everything with fruit. Chang is a whiz at pastry, be it the peach-and-blueberry strudel with a sturdy sugared buttery crust or peach-and-plum tart in a brioche-like shell. Individual rustic pies have an appealing, almost savory crust and a winy, intense filling made from fresh cherries.

Chang isn’t making bread . . . yet. She is baking a good rosemary roll that serves as the basis for grilled vegetables and tuna sandwiches. There are also tomato and olive focaccia, lovely as an 18th-Century Italian still life; let her split them and stuff them with mizuna greens for a quick, satisfying lunch.

Breakfast foods are, of course, a specialty here: Moist dark bran muffins are not too sweet. Croissants leavened with sourdough starter are glorious. Chang’s scones are more crumbly and buttery than Porta Via’s, and made with blueberries. Which scone is actually superior could make for a lively, if subjective, debate--and the most pleasant research imaginable.

* EuroPane, 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (818) 577-1828. Open 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No alcohol served. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $10 - $16.