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Breezy Summer Fare

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For almost 20 years, a rustic mall just below the crest of Beverly Glen was home to Adriano’s, one of the city’s most beloved Italian restaurants. Recently, though, Adriano’s closed its doors. Bad news for diners, because (among other reasons) the Glen is such a cool and pleasant place to dine in summer.

But as if by magic, the postage-stamp-size Terrazza of Bel-Air appeared almost immediately just a few doors down from the old Adriano’s. This new restaurant is truly an addition to the neighborhood and much more affordable than Adriano’s.

I can’t emphasize enough how tiny this place is. In the dining room, there are only half a dozen tables--draped with white tablecloths and set with flowers--and very little elbow room.

And there are precisely 11 more tables on the terrazza, a more casual, less private and far less quiet setting than the dining room. If you sit out there, you get to enjoy a view of the cypress trees that edge the mall, not to mention the cool breezes. The trade-off is that you have to endure people squeezing by your table to shop at Beverly Glen Market or grab a pizza at nearby Santo Pietro.

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Wherever you sit, the food is exceptional. Chef-owner Michael Lotterstein, who’s only 27, is a talented Culinary Institute of America graduate who most recently worked with Dean James Max at Woodside in Brentwood. The restaurant’s business card has “Ristorante Italiano” printed on it, but that could be misleading. Lotterstein’s cooking, to my mind, is as much California cuisine as anything.

Take his chopped vegetable salad, one of the most colorful and delicious salads I have ever tasted. The dish description mentions sweet corn, red onions, carrots, radicchio, celery, garbanzos, white beans and a honey balsamic dressing. What it doesn’t tell you is how fresh and crisp all the vegetables taste, how beautifully vivid the colors are or how perfectly the chef’s sweet-tart dressing complements everything.

There is a wonderful arugula salad made with red onions, roasted red beets, toasted pine nuts and tiny clumps of goat cheese. The sun-dried tomato and goat cheese bruschetta may sound a bit precious, but the grilled peasant bread is perfectly toasted and the cheese and tomatoes are in nice proportion to one another.

The chef also makes a different risotto every day, which may be ordered either as an entree or in a half-portion for an appetizer. His spinach and garlic risotto is as simple and satisfying a rice dish as I’ve had this year.

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Lotterstein doesn’t use fresh pasta, but he understands how to get the best out of the dried kind and his sauces are very, very flavorful. Rigatoni alla Toscana is the name he’s chosen for a dish that seems more southern Italian than Tuscan because of a meaty tomato sauce full of spicy Italian sausage. Anyway, it’s great.

The penne al salmone affumicato is a tasty, unforgivingly creamy mixture of smoked salmon, asparagus and red onions in white wine cream sauce. The chef sauces the wide, ribbon-shaped noodles called pappardelle with a blend of pesto, tomato and Parmesan cheese. It, too, is quite pleasing.

The entrees, believe it or not, are even better than the pastas. One night there was a special of whitefish on a bed of spinach, atop a bed of yellow lentils and crushed tomatoes. The fish was wonderfully moist, and the spinach barrier allowed the outside to stay crisp.

Pollo al mattone is adroitly grilled chicken, served with garlicky spinach and roasted diced potatoes. The best entree might be bistecca all’aglio e rosmarino. There are halved cloves of garlic hiding under the meltingly tender steak slices. The bath of olive oil, garlic and rosemary accentuated the meaty flavors.

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Lotterstein does all the cooking, which leaves him time for only a few desserts. Look for his chocolate chip peanut butter bread with cinnamon whipped cream, or a perfect chocolate walnut brownie, served warm with cappuccino ice cream. He also makes a fine tiramisu, perhaps in homage to the glory days of Adriano’s.

BE THERE

Terrazza of Bel-Air, 2960 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Parking in lot. Beer and wine only. All major cards. Dinner for two, $32-$48. Call (310) 475-7404.


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