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Restaurants : A TASTE OF NEW JOISEY AT MATTEO'S LITTLE BROTHER

October 16, 1987|ROBIN GREEN

You can just imagine the conversation:

"You know somethin', Louie, why don't they have anyplace in this town like those joints we used to have in Hoboken?"

"I don't know, Louie" (everyone in this fantasy is named Louie), "ya mean those little joints where you could get a decent meatball sandwich or a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, manicotti, cannelloni?"

"Right, Louie. And none of this raw tomato sauce they got all over L.A. and the pizza with the weird stuff on it. I'm talking sauce that's been cooked for a decent interval. . . ."

". . . the kind like your mother used to stir all day. . . ."

". . . the kind that repeats on you all night long, so you know you ate something."

Well, guess what, fellas? It may not look like Hoboken--in fact, it looks like a thousand Formica restaurants in a thousand plastic Los Angeles malls--but A Little Taste of Hoboken, a take-out, eat-in restaurant owned by and next to Matteo's on Westwood Boulevard may be your place.

On the walls and place mats are photographs of celebrated Hoboken landmarks: the Lipton Tea Building, the Hoboken Ferry, the Harborside Terminal. To the tables, brought by seasoned-pro waiters from next door, come juice glasses full of red jug Inglenook and plates of nostalgia food: giant steaming artichokes with garlicky, buttery bread crumbs crammed into the middle and down in between the leaves; oily, garlicky pasta with clam sauce (just be grateful it's not watery and bland like it is most places); huge wedges of house-made cheesecake that's light and dense at the same time and could be some of the best in Los Angeles.

Angeli this is not. You can't get gnocchi in Gorgonzola cream or fusilli with chanterelles and wild meat. And at times this restaurant's rendition of al dente seems made to order for people who no longer have dentes. But if you stick to simple things, like the above, or chopped salad (as good a one as you'll find anywhere, but then again, I'm not a big fan of chopped salad) or roasted peppers with anchovies--both appetizers large enough for two--you'll have a nice meal.

It's when you stray into more complicated terrain that you get in trouble. Stuffed eggplant lies on the plate like an overturned turtle, in place of turtle-innards a sorry, sodden mass of meat/bread/rice mixture that has the consistency and flavor of some kind of hamburger bread pudding.

Pastas pomodoro and basilico, spaghetti with meat balls, manicotti and bready pizzas all come weighted down with that belch-inducing, cooked-in tomato sauce that the two Louies were missing so much. Give me, instead, something like the mostacciole with broccoli, with its garlic fried in too much oil (OK, the garlic was a little on the crisp side, but it had a nice, sweet crunch). It would have been a perfect dish if the broccoli hadn't been cooked to death.

Another trip down memory lane is supplied by the oozing casserole of eggplant parmigiana, properly heavy and dense, bound together by a molten lava flow of melted mozzarella cheese.

For dessert, there's an espresso machine on hand, some good cannoli, a wonderful, soaking-wet rum cake slathered with whipped cream, and some kind of delicious, dense chocolate ball. For those willing to endure the non-atmosphere of the place, and the possible acid-induced heartburn, this is a good place to catch a quick meal before a movie at the Westside Pavillion, or a no-hassle, inexpensive take-out dinner before the tube.

A Little Taste of Hoboken: Matteo ' s Take Out, 2323 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles ; (213) 474-1109. Open Monday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Sunday. Beer and wine. American Express and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $20-40.

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