Dining Review: The appetizers aren't bad, for starters

The Hollywood Pasta Company in Burbank, opened last year by chef and caterer Kurt Ehrlich, doesn’t look exactly glam from the outside — its small storefront façade sandwiched on Burbank Boulevard between an alley-like parking lot and a liquor store. Inside, burgundy walls and elegant but crowded seating bring the tone up several notches.

Each time we’ve been, our party has been seated at a window. At lunch seating, two of us were put in the corner, at the end of a long table and bench that could have accommodated at least four more. At a dinner visit, our larger party was seated practically on top of an incredibly chatty regular, despite the dozen or so empty tables elsewhere. Each spot had a seat that was nearly impossible for the server to reach. Aside from the tiny aisles between tables, the décor is soothing, until you glance over at the flat-screen TV framed between two Italianate columns. I’ll have the lasagna with a side of Newt Gingrich and Piers Morgan, please. The sound was muted, but the effect on a night out with friends and family shouts volumes.

We first visited the restaurant in November, soon after its opening. The Milano sandwich, with salami, mortadella, ham, provolone, with lettuce, tomato, onion and a nice balsamic vinaigrette came in a generous portion, with flavorful fillings, but on unfortunately dry bread. The same trait marred the restaurant’s garlic bread. On our later visit, the bread problem had been solved, and we couldn’t get enough of the garlic bread.

In fact, the starters at Hollywood Pasta Company steal the show. The garlic bread is salty, buttery and flavorful with just the right amount of cheese sprinkled on top. The salad is a nice mixture of greens, tomatoes, grated cheese and a creamy, slightly sweet vinaigrette. Minestrone bursts with flavorful herbs and plentiful vegetables with flat noodles floating in the savory broth. I could’ve made my meal on that soup alone. Roma bread comes on a pizza pan, its light, fluffy dough topped with artichoke hearts, eggplant slices, tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. We gobbled it all up, feeling nearly full by the time our entrees arrived.

The chicken piccata was nicely cooked, with a lemon and caper sauce. (What is it that Nora Ephron wrote about capers? “…any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.”) I would’ve liked to taste more lemon and a little less caper, but the dish still held up. The vegetables on the side were substantial and tasty. It’s nice to see zucchini treated as a side, rather than a garnish. The star of the plate, however, was the ana potatoes, sliced nearly through before being sprinkled with herbs and roasted.

The eggplant Parmesan and the lasagna offered wonderful taste, but more sauce than substance. The sauce on both was rich and flavorful, but there was just so much of it left after the noodles and eggplant had been consumed. Likewise, the mushroom ravioli came swimming in a bowl of cream sauce, which is a shame because the smoky, meaty mushrooms came wrapped in firm, nicely cooked pillows of pasta dough. But we were literally trying to scrape the sauce off to the side to find and enjoy the ravioli. It was like ravioli soup. I’m looking forward to visiting after the restaurant has had a few more months to work out the kinks that nearly every new eatery must deal with.

The servers and staff at Hollywood Pasta Company were unfailingly professional and pleasant. Even when I was led through the small kitchen to reach the restroom in back, the dishwasher offered a smile and greeting. The chef, who also runs Celebrity Gourmet Catering, came out to tell our server he would be giving the two youngsters at our table a chef’s choice sundae. The sundae comes with kids’ meals, but the chef graciously extended that kindness to our young ones, who ordered off the regular menu. The sundaes were spectacular, with vanilla ice cream and a gorgeous, rich berry sauce and an Italian cookie perched on top.

The Hollywood Pasta Company has a brilliant first act and a killer ending. I’m looking forward to finding out how the middle story develops.

REBECCA BRYANT is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Caribbean Travel & Life and other publications.

What: Hollywood Pasta Company

Location and hours: 3803 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank. Open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prices range from $4.95 to $12.95 for starters, sandwiches run $7.95 and entrees range from $10.95 to $24.95

Info: (818) 569-7000 and hollywoodpastacompany.com

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