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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Tiny Hangout for Film Folks Can Be as Creative as Clientele

February 05, 1988|J. D. GOLD

La Loggia is a tiny, overheated restaurant, so dim-lit and inconspicuous from the outside that you'll probably drive right past it the first time you come for dinner. It is also the kind of restaurant your agent will take you to every time--a hip, throbbing Studio City trattoria that is so loud he couldn't hear you complain even if he wanted to. The place is 5 minutes from Universal and just down the block from MTM.

In the half-hour or so you'll invariably wait for a table, your agent--let's call him Mort--can schmooze with any number of executive producers and development veeps while you sullenly sip Pellegrino with lime. You finally get your table, a good one right up front. Each time you broach a delicate subject, Mort will shout a hearty hello to someone situated behind your left shoulder.

A waiter brings out bruschetta , rounds of hot, oiled bread that are topped with basil and cool diced tomato. Mort is too busy eavesdropping on the Disney gossip two tables over to notice the food. You eat his portion, too, and order a bottle of wonderful Santa Margherita pinot grigio white wine--he's paying. A moan rises above the din: "What do you mean , I'm not getting renewed?"

"So anyway, Mort," you ask, "what did they think of the treatment?"

"I'll have that radicchio thing," he tells the waiter, "and that fish." He stares at the wine with distaste. "And Pellegrino, no ice."

You order and lose yourself in the roar of the low-ceilinged dining room, trying to ignore the conversation Mort is having with a development exec who stands directly behind your chair. You like her perfume.

You dislike your appetizer, a bowlful of musty-tasting clams and green-lipped mussels so tough they might have swum all the way from New Zealand by themselves, though the inch or so of creamy tomato-garlic broth at the bottom is fine. Mort barely touches his: smoky, grilled prosciutto wrapped around leaves of radicchio that have been grilled just long enough to bring out the sweetness and sublimate the bitterness of the vegetable; garlicky, grilled mushroom caps are alongside. The combination is superb; you feel not the least bit guilty about snitching from his plate.

"So why haven't you gotten me more work? You said Lorimar was really interested in having me do a polish of that thing they have in turnaround."

"Hey," he says, glancing down at his plate, "these portions are getting smaller all the time."

You pick at a bowl of black and white linguine. The stuff was, no doubt, palatable a few minutes earlier--all pastas are made in-house--but is now a gummy mass glued together with cream sauce and dotted with a few scallops now overcooked by the heat of the noodles. You wish that you had ordered the green and white ravioli, stuffed with spinach and ricotta and just touched with a cream sauce that is sweet with fresh peas, or even the special linguine that comes in a rough-edged marinara sauce dotted with firm little shrimp.

Mort's pasta, perfect spinach fettuccine in a light cream sauce flavored with beautiful, nutty-tasting zucchini flowers (a waiter holds a block of good Parmesan cheese over it and grates) is, of course, delicious, though an impromptu negotiation with the guy at the next table preoccupies him and he eats only a strand or two.

The girl next door offers a slice of pizza. Mort shakes his head "no" as you reach over and take it from her hand. The crust, though without the sinewy, slightly burnt character of the best pizza, is elegant and light; you'd like the topping of vaguely Lebanese-inflected lamb sausage with sauteed onions better if you were a shwarma fan, you guess.

Main courses here are generally as creative as the clientele. True, there are the usual sorts of things: chicken grilled with garlic and rosemary, veal chop grilled with herbs to a juicy pinkness, veal scaloppine with prosciutto and cheese. But roast rabbit is well-browned and succulent, flavored with a slight licorice hint of tarragon, reminiscent somehow of great Chinese roast duck.

The Mediterranean sea bass called branzino is stuffed with basil and grilled: The basil's sweetness permeates the flesh of the crisp-skinned fish, which is served whole. Good, crusty cylinders of sauteed monkfish are sauced with what is basically a creamy pesto, and sea bass filets are sauced with a grapefruit cream flecked with herbs.

"So, Mort. How about TriStar?"

"Try the fresh strawberries," he says. "They're absolutely terrific."

La Loggia, 11814 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (818) 985-9222. Lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily. Beer and wine only. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $35-$60.

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