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MOVABLE FEASTS

Good Food and Good Vibes at Fresh to Go

February 19, 1988|L. N. HALLIBURTON

It's not simply those negative ions at the beach, or the influence of the crystal shop next door. Fresh to Go, the 7-month-old Venice takeout shop, has good energy all its own. It's a tiny little store with a baby-sized kitchen, where owner Barbara Jacobs, who may be up to her hands in pasta dough, hovers over her customers like a mama hen. The room's thick with Chiat/Day advertising folk and Gold's Gym body builders from down the street.

The Chiat/Day bunch seems to favor the cafe au lait, apricot scones and 10 varieties of bran muffins made with real fruit every day. Meanwhile, the Gold's Gym crowd goes for what one female mesomorph told me was the "clean Contest Diet food."

"Barbara doesn't use any salt and nothing's fried," she says. "I'm training and following the contest diet--no dairy, no fats--and there's lots of things to choose from here." The Gold's Gym favorite is chunks of skinless white meat chicken on a pillow of steamed brown rice. This biggest seller of the house is very tender--and very plain.

Simplicity reigns over the daily changing menu. In addition to the poached chicken/steamed rice combination, there are always whole roast chickens (often rubbed with fruit juices), baked potatoes and yams, and three kinds of freshly poached fish. Portions are large--items are priced by container size, not by pound--and prices are low. A moist baked chicken cost $6.25. A container of tile fish with lemon and garlic (it served two) was $5.50. A skewer of the moistest teriyaki swordfish, crisp sweet onions and yellow peppers was $2. A big heaping mound of brown rice was half that price.

Jacobs makes several pasta dishes from scratch every day. And she has figured out a way to make the pasta with neither oil nor egg yolks by using semolina, whole wheat flour, egg whites, water and vegetable purees. The result is indeed fresh and healthy, but to my taste, too mild. The gorgeous black squid-ink fettuccine laced with pink shrimp and bright yellow zest of lemon had only the faintest perfume of the sea. Homemade rotelli with artichoke hearts, sweet onions, red and yellow peppers was barely burnished with Dijon mustard. Vegetable lasagna stuffed high with zucchini, tomatoes and spinach was extremely tame.

I loved the wonderfully fresh veal meat loaf--light, moist and packed with carrots, onions and spinach. But a wild rice salad--with celery, red onions, pine nuts, raisins, red peppers and curry--couldn't make up it's mind what it wanted to be. And though turkey is supposedly prepared five times a week, twice I bought pieces that seemed ancient.

If you're counting on a takeout dinner, get there by midafternoon, or you'll find the choices limited. And if you're not on a Contest Diet, try the intensely creamy bread pudding made with the muffin dough.

Fresh to Go, 259-B Hampton Drive, Venice (just north of Rose Ave . ). (213) 450-6013. Open daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $8 to $15.

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