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Decent Bread--and Where To Find It


Surely she jests, we thought upon reading Ruth Reichl's recent lament that you can't get a decent piece of bread in this town.

When we were kids, our mothers constantly admonished us not to ruin our appetites by "filling up on bread." Thinking that impossible, we grew up stalking the perfect loaf.

We didn't become food critics (and still don't know sushi from shinola), but we did learn of a number of restaurants where it is indeed possible to get a decent piece of bread.

Each of these serves one-of-a-kind bread or best-of-its-kind bread. All, we truly believe, rise to the occasion.

Man may not live by bread alone but, then again, most men have never eaten at the Grill in Beverly Hills. While the food is top-notch, it's the bread that really sets our mouths watering.

As in more than 300 Los Angeles restaurants, the bread comes from Pioneer French Baking Co., which makes more than 40 sourdough and French varieties.

What gives the Grill's round sourdough bread its unique taste? According to owner Bob Spivak, it's simply the freshness. Delivered twice daily, the bread arrives in boxes that are opened at once and left that way. Neither heated nor cooled, the loaves are sliced just before being brought to the table. We've yet to find its wonderful flavor anywhere else, even at restaurants that also serve the same kind of Pioneer bread.

The Grill, 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills; (213) 276-0615.

Kate Mantilini serves the same Pioneer bread as the Grill. Mantilini's widely acclaimed bread, however, comes to your table warm, giving it a completely different quality. In bread, as in other food, the small things can make a big difference.

Kate Mantilini, 9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (213) 278-3699.

The La Scala restaurants scattered throughout the city serve a very special Italian bread called pane di campagna . According to executive chef Emilio Nunez, this means "bread of the peasants who work in the fields."

Although you won't find too many peasants in Beverly Hills, when you dine at La Scala you will encounter one of three versions of the pane--filone (baguette-style), ciabatta (a wide, flat loaf) and pagnota (round). Each is made from the same dough, but the differences in the kneading/shaping process and rising times account for the slightly different taste of each. All are very fresh, with thick crusts and full-bodied inner dough.

Made at the Redondo Beach La Scala Presto Trattoria, the bread is delivered twice daily to each of the seven restaurants in the La Scala family.

La Scala, 9455 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (213) 275-0579. (Also La Scala Boutique, La Scala Malibu and La Scala Presto Trattorias in Brentwood, Redondo Beach, Toluca Lake and Encino.)

Made fresh all day long from pizza dough by chef Pasquale Morra, Angeli's bread is served only on request and costs $1 per order.

"We consider our pane a very special item to be served only with certain dishes. It is sort of a 'pizza that never was,' " said co-owner John Strobel.

The large, dome-shaped rolls have a chewy, tasty dough inside a coarse brown crust. They make the sandwiches here taste especially good, and are fabulous with Angeli's Caprini, a mixture of goat cheese, olive oil, garlic and red-pepper flakes.

Angeli, 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 936-9086.

Phyllis Diller may not be noted for her taste in clothes, but as a fan of La Famiglia's special pesto bread, she gets high marks for her taste in food.

Made of long sourdough loaves (sometimes baked at the restaurant, sometimes delivered by our old friend Pioneer), the bread is divided into slices, covered with a pesto mixture and toasted until the crust becomes crisp but the inside remains soft and chewy.

You can double your pleasure with a side trip to La Famiglia's "offspring" next door, Piccola, for traditional Italian focaccia bread.

Made at the restaurant, it has a thick, fresh crust and soft insides flecked with rosemary.

La Famiglia and Piccola, 453 and 455 N . Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (213) 276-6208 and (213) 278-3395.

One pleasant surprise at Rondo is the light, tasty focaccia , Italian rosemary bread. It is rolled out thinly in one direction only and baked in the pizza oven, puffing up into a dome shape with a little olive oil and rosemary brushed on top. A better beginning for an Italian meal is hard to find.

Rondo, 7966 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 655-8158.

Part of the fun at the Old Spaghetti Factory, a high-volume Hollywood pasta place, is definitely the bread. Presentation is everything here. An eight-inch loaf of Pioneer sourdough comes hot on a wooden board with a cutting knife. The diner does the rest. Also supplied with this do-it-yourself kit are garlic butter and the regular version.

"We call this our 'Charley' bread, for lack of a better name," said Pioneer spokesman Vic Johnston. "We originally designed it for Charley Brown's."

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