Do you prowl Ventura Boulevard weekend evenings looking for someplace to eat, only to find one place after another so packed with people that you stand no chance of getting in?
If so, here's some advice: Don't even think about Tempo Mediterranean Bar & Grill in Encino on a Friday night, because if you don't reserve a table in this place well in advance, you're out of luck.
Tempo serves the foods of Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean, and on Friday evenings the Israeli entertainers Zioni Zadok and Ruben Berci welcome Shabbat--the day of rest for Jews around the world--by lighting candles and leading prayers over challah, the Sabbath bread, with parents and children in the restaurant's dining room.
Zadok and Berci do the ceremony twice, at 7 and at 8:30 p.m., without regard to the actual moment of sunset, which marks the beginning of Shabbat. But punctilios don't matter in this place on Friday night. People come to welcome the day of rest with noisy celebration--and to do so heartily.
"We've been lighting the Shabbat candles and saying the prayers over challah for five or six years," says Gilli Sharoni, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Avner, and his brother Ygal and father, Haviv.
"Lately we've been extremely busy on Friday nights, really. Zioni and Ruben light the candles, and then they get the children who have come with their families to say the prayer over the bread with them, and then everybody eats.
"Without a reservation, you can't get a seat."
Those who follow the laws of kashrut may have half a chicken baked in a special oven to keep it kosher, with steamed rice and vegetables, for $8.95.
You can also have half a chicken baked Israeli style with tomatoes and a wine sauce, or grilled salmon, or a spicy Israeli burger-kebab, or Cajun salmon, or the restaurant's signature dish, a filet of lamb with sesame, sauteed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes.
The lamb goes for $15.95, but prices for the other dishes are under $11, as a rule.
* Tempo Mediterranean Bar & Grill is at 16610 Ventura Blvd., east of Balboa Boulevard in Encino, (818) 905-5855.
Benito Prezia offers a spring dinner special Sundays through Wednesdays this month at his Buon Gusto Ristorante in Mission Hills. For $12.95, you get bruschetta, soup or salad, either chicken tetrazzini pasta or a porcini mushroom vegetable dish, plus custard and coffee. Buon Gustois at 15535 Devonshire, just west of Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills, (818) 893-9985.
Next time you head out to Thousand Oaks for a performance at the Civic Arts Plaza, check out John Notter's new bistro Le Cafe next to the Westlake Village Inn.
Not long ago, Thousand Oaks was a wide place in the road to Santa Barbara, and Westlake Village didn't exist at all. Eating out meant scrounging a hamburger at a roadside joint.
Now Thousand Oaks boasts Cafe Provencal and 2087 An American Bistro within walking distance of the Civic Arts Plaza, plus Gino Trattoria a little farther west on Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Caffe Sienna Ristorante in the North Ranch shopping mall.
Meanwhile, in the new Promenade at Westlake you find Favoritz and Marmalade, and just south on Westlake Boulevard lie Fins Seafood Grill and Galletto Caffe & Grill--altogether not a bad showing for the 'burbs.
Notter, who runs the lounge in the Westlake Village Inn, wants to join the fun. He opened Le Cafe last month, taking over a space that has seen a number of owners come and go in recent years, and hopes to draw a new crowd with a menu long on choices at reasonable prices.
Among the choices: no fewer than 11 appetizers, most $6.95 or less; almost as many salads; and nearly two dozen entrees, including Chilean sea bass, grilled Atlantic salmon, capellini pomodoro, fettuccine carbonara, grilled pork chops and osso buco, at prices ranging to $14.95.
Notter also offers daily specials. Last week his selections included seared ahi tuna, filet mignon au poivre, bouillabaisse, crab and shrimp pasta, grilled swordfish, pork tenderloin and the classic French dish coquille St. Jacques. Top price: $16.95.
Le Cafe serves three meals a day, seven days a week. It is at 32037 Agoura Road, east of Westlake Village Boulevard in Westlake Village, (818) 889-9105.
* Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or fax (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at email@example.com