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Restaurants : Down-to-earth Elegance At Brentwood's Berty's

September 25, 1987|L. N. HALLIBURTON

There's a certain block in Brentwood where you can go to the cleaners, the shoe repair, the beauty-supply shop and two banks. If you get hungry, you have a choice of fast things: Pioneer Chicken, Mrs. Fields' Cookies, Flipper's Yogurt and Panama Reds Mexican food. Going a tad slower, you can duck into La Scala Presto or Chin Chin. But if you feel like dining, there's only one place to go: the recently opened Berty's on the former site of Donatello's restaurant.

No screaming orange, no surgical lights, Berty's is the antithesis of a fast-food joint. With its salmon-pink walls and soft music, you're primed for a leisurely meal. The long, narrow room and striped banquettes have a decidedly post-war (and pre-McDonald's) feel.

The menu, on the other hand, is California contempo: You start with greens and goat cheese dressed in Zinfandel, work your way through blue crab ravioli, a grilled veal chop with red onion marmalade and finish off with three flavors of creme brulee.

Before we even got to those pedigreed greens, though, we were knocked out by a basket of hot, baked-on-the-premises whole-wheat and country white breads. For all its elegance, there's something earthy about Berty's food.

No namby-pamby house salad: the cornucopian California greens came with a garlic jolt. The crunchy Caesar salad with pancetta had welterweight punch, too. Three lean grilled lamb sausages (spicy like the Moroccan merguez ) were jazzy enough on their own--the homemade catsup, really a sweet chutney, simply crossed wires with the meat.

The country pate was unadventurous, and the cream of asparagus soup just pedestrian. But the smoked salmon lived up to its ne plus ultra name: Scottish Seawild Oak Smoked Salmon with Sour Cream, Mushrooms and Chives. The salmon was first-class velvet; the fixings served in little pots.

If you're at dinner, you've probably had the valet park your car but, if you're at lunch, you've either found yourself a one-hour meter or a pricey garage. (Parking is abysmal in this section of town. I tried the meter route and ended up with a ticket--an expensive way to go to lunch.)

Be sure to order the blue crab ravioli. The fat little pillows are bursting with real crab, cloaked in lobster cream sauce as smooth as satin sheets. The accompanying vegetables--julienne turnips, carrots, thin French beans--are crisp and terrific, too.

The lemon angel hair pasta with porcini mushrooms, sweet peppers, broccoli and feta cheese I found ultra rich and unctuous.

All of the entrees sampled--portions are grand here--were really quite tasty. Nothing was overcooked. Swordfish and calves liver were baby tender. The fish came with a sheer basil sauce while the liver was accompanied by a dense autumnal red cabbage and apple mix. The thick grilled chop, with its red onion marmalade, was actually delicate and hearty at the same time. (And that's the real pleasure of the food.) A grilled marinated chicken, served with linguine and vegetables as thin as pin-stripes, was juicy-good, too.

The warm scallop salad was less to my taste: The scallops were so tiny, the raspberry vinaigrette and pink grapefruit just too sweet. But I'd have the roasted pepper and smoked chicken salad with tarragon mayonnaise again: Besides the lovely combination of tastes, I like the way it's served.

Desserts--gorgeous as they are--are just too sweet. Better than the ginger-amaretto-hazelnut trio of creme brulees served in thimble-size pots are the home-baked lemon cookies presented with the bill.

Berty's, 11712 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (213) 207-6169. Closed Sundays. Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Valet parking: dinner only. Beer and wine. Dinner for two (food only): $36.50-$85.

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