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MOVABLE FEASTS : Beverly Market Fare Is, Simply, Wonderful

February 26, 1988|L.N. HALLIBURTON

The market at the month-old Beverly Restaurant and Market has wonderful food. Period. So wonderful, in fact, that the $13 parking ticket I found on my windshield didn't dampen my ardor. (There turns out to be a free two-hour city parking lot across the street. Take your time ogling--and sampling--the treasures in the case.)

The press release brashly compared this new kid on the block to Zabar's, Dean and DeLucca and Balducci's in New York, and this New York girl raised her eyebrows Empire State Building high. So here's the truth in advertising: While you won't find the quantity of Zabar's or Balducci's here or those rarefied Dean and DeLucca tableaux, you will find that the taste measures up to the Big Boys.

The homemade breads should give the neighboring Il Fornaio a run for its money. They're crusty, fragrant and fresh. On the small counter sits what is surely one of the world's most beautiful corn breads. The big thick golden slabs, rife with red peppers, chiles and onions, taste great, too.

The corn bread shares the counter with some of the best roast chickens I've ever had. Chili-rubbed, lemon-suffused, rosemary and garlic-stuffed: Take your pick. They are all that perfect combination of crisp skin and succulently moist meat. Baby back ribs, at $9.50 per pound, are covered with an inventive smoky ginger marinade, but I found the meat a tad dry.

Don't miss the miniature meat loaf. My meat-and-potatoes friend was speechless. I, the writer, am not: It is lush, covered with a thin glaze of zesty barbecue sauce, and tastes of very freshly ground meat. Crisp potatoes, roasted with fistfuls of garlic, are equally dreamy.

It is rare to find green salads at takeout parlors as fresh and as varied as those you'd make at home. And then, the dressings always seem to leak in the car. Not so here. The green standard is very high. The salad's filled with radicchio, oak leaf lettuce, arugula, curly endive and dandelion greens. The smooth balsamic vinegar dressing comes in a sturdy little case. And once they even gilded the lily by scattering a handful of pansies atop the greens.

Two dishes failed the test. The wild rice duck salad, with corn, red peppers, cilantro and too much duck skin, was a muddle, and a chicken caesar salad had a strong sour note.

But nearly everything else made you want to get up and do a little jig. Like the raisin-stuffed baked acorn squash covered with a thin slip of cinnamon and honey. And the properly bitter and crunchy rapini slathered with garlic and olive oil. My grandmother would have enjoyed the brisket's sweet tenderness--but not that amount of fat at $9.50 per pound. The turkey breast tastes like someone took the time to baste it carefully.

One vegetarian friend was very happy with the graceful lasagna and with the finely textured double-decker (spinach and golden squash) vegetable pate. The only reason our meat-and-potatoes man didn't finish off the crisp, thin-crusted garlic duck pizza was to save space for the lush desserts.

One needs a chaser of Evian after the scream-rich chocolate pate or the whip-cream-whirled white chocolate mousse. The good assortment of cookies and the thin-slivered streusel apple tarts are more fresh farm down-to-earth. Next time I go back, I'm parking in the Beverly Hills city lot. One parking ticket equals two of those roast chickens to go.

The Beverly Restaurant and Market, 342 N. Beverly Drive, (213) 274-4271. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Beer and wine only. Street parking. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $23 to $50.

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