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MOVABLE FEASTS

Culinary Gold in Silver Lake

January 15, 1988|L.N. HALLIBURTON

It's the kind of story Studs Terkel would love. Annette (Netty) Carr grows up in Silver Lake, Luis Moreno in El Salvador. Their paths--and their dream--cross: They open a little "carry-out cuisine" shop. Luis is at the stove, Netty at the register, both happily ever after at Netty's on Silver Lake Boulevard. The story's not over. Let's go back one step, because their gastronomic itinerary gives a hint of their food.

They met at Mangia in 1980; Luis was cooking, Netty was waitressing. Luis went on to be saute man at the Ritz, Netty turned into Angeli's maitre d'. Their Eastside outpost serves homey, modestly priced Italian, Salvadoran and New American cooking with a handful of blackened goodies thrown in.

My Silver Lake crony says Netty's looks like "your basic bunker" and it's true: There is barbed-wire fencing out in front of this indigenous roadside architecture stand. There's also, just behind the parking lot, a garden of fresh herbs.

When the weather's right, you can eat outside on the patio with it's beachy beatnik Jackson Pollock look. If you have to wait (and chances are that you will, because everything hot is made to order), it's fun to watch Luis play the skillet on the stove. That man knows his way around a saute pan.

There are always six cold salads in the case. (As well as being sold separately by the pound, you get one to go with your hot entree or you can have five selections for $5.95.) The roasted eggplant, zucchini and red bell pepper concoction is a not-to-miss. The cucumber salad with sour cream and fresh dill is it's limpid counterpart. Fruit salad is very fresh, but there's scarcely a taste of the amaretto it's said to come with. I didn't like the green beans much: The mushrooms and pre-sliced almonds gave them a helter-skelter taste.

There's also a chicken salad with red and yellow bell peppers, Chinese pea pods and a sesame seed vinaigrette. Netty's version is clear-eyed and, at $4.95 a pound, about half the price of what it costs on the beach side of town.

Each day there is one homemade soup, which sells for $2 for a 10-ounce portion. The butternut squash soup, a sultry blend of rich chicken stock and golden squash, is perfect for these cold nights. The potato and leek soup, dashed with thyme, is gentle and loaded with little red spuds.

If you come during the day, you can devour one of Netty's he-man sandwiches piled into a massive sesame roll. The blackened chicken and honey mustard is a big thick affair slabbed with beef steak tomatoes. The skin-on eggplant, tomato and garlic special is a workman's dream, while the pizza-like spicy sausage, mozzarella and green pepper sandwich has a nice, crumbly texture.

Pasta is served at all hours. Particularly wonderful is the homemade lasagna, which comes in five varieties. They were making their sweet sausage version on one of the days I was there--it really tastes "mama-made." Linguine with scallops, clams and sun-dried tomatoes might be good if you ate it there (despite the smallest clams I have ever seen) but it's not the thing to take home. The scallops stayed sweet and juicy but the pasta got dried out. (One problem: The rice and the salad are packed in the same container as the entree. Everything shifts places on the way home. And much as I like the fruit salad, I don't want to eat it simultaneously with the chop, especially because that chop--pork or lamb--is so delicious by itself.)

Those chops and a boneless chicken breast ($7.95 each for a good strong helping) are either grilled or sauteed and invariably laced with a light cream-based sauce. That's where Luis really shines, doing his dance with fresh herbs and wine. (But what a surprise to come home and find the announced "chicken with tamarind" to be chicken with tarragon. ) He also makes a mean chicken tamale that can soothe your soul. His rice, jumbled with julienned zucchini, carrots and peppers, is tossed quickly before your eyes.

The sole dessert is a brandy-infused bread pudding, which tastes like eggy French toast.

Netty's, 1700 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 662-8655. Open Monday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Visa, MasterCard. No checks. Parking lot.

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