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First Impressions

Cucina Italiana On Melrose

January 03, 1986|RUTH REICHL

Ten years ago most people thought wood-burning pizza ovens weren't quite legal; these days they're so common it seems it's illegal for a restaurant to open without one. But Rondo, yet another brand-new restaurant on Melrose (7966 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (213) 655-8158), is different from most: Despite the ubiquitous oven, this is not California cuisine, but cucina Italiana.

The restaurant seats just 34 people (plus three at the counter), but the space has been beautifully designed. Looking toward the open kitchen, you see the circular volume of the oven set off by the rectangular kitchen. Triangles jut out from the walls, and even the skylights have been cut into interesting shapes.

The food is not nearly as modern as the space: There is pizza (on very thin crusts), pasta, risotto, grilled fish, scallopine and the like. The pasta is tasty, and there are nice touches, such as the focaccina brought warm to the table, a crisp circle of flat bread, fragrant with oil and salt and fresh rosemary. For dessert, don't miss the orange-scented apple turnovers--a delight when eaten with the very strong espresso. This, in true Italian style, is served in mere thimblefuls.

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