Sometimes you want an exotic restaurant, sometimes you want a fancy place. Sometimes, though, what you really want is what you might call a serviceable restaurant. A reasonable, reliable place for when you just need to go out and eat. Case in point: Cafe Rimini, located where once upon a time a restaurant named Canard de Bombay served Indian cuisine mostly notable for its pugnacious hotness. You'd hardly recognize the old place, though. It's painted a light, attractive color today; it's perfectly well-lit. You no longer dine thinking you're lost in some dark cul-de-sac.
Cafe Rimini is a handy sort of place to know about in this part of town (just off Restaurant Row), with decent prices and a rather old-fashioned style. There aren't any great surprises on the menu, which is the sort where you automatically get soup (usually a cabbage-less, bean-less minestrone) or salad with a surprisingly sharp dressing, and if your entree isn't pasta, you get pasta on the side.
The veal entrees (most of which are duplicated in chicken, for those who can't bring themselves to eat little baby moo-calves) seem very good. The veal piccata is a bit sharper and more lemony than usual, and the veal saltimbocca is considerably better than you generally find, made with dry white wine instead of marsala--the wine, veal glaze and lemon sauce being cooked down to an intensely flavored sticky brown paste.
Fettuccine tetrazzini ("fett tett," as it is written on the bill) is the sort made with chicken instead of turkey, and there's a slightly unorthodox bit of tomato in the rather meaty cream and mushroom sauce. The crab leg linguine is pasta under a big logpile of standard-quality king crab legs with a pretty fair caper sauce. The calamari appetizer is rings of squid (not a whole lot of them, unfortunately) in an excellent tomato sauce mightily scented with anise.
But these are uncharacteristically unusual. Basically, Cafe Rimini is the reliable sort of Italian place where the eggplant parmigiana tastes like eggplant parmigiana. I must say, though, the carbonara sauce is kind of a mess, one where prosciutto scratches the roof of your mouth with saltiness while you wait for some other flavor to show up.
Cafe Rimini also has an unexpected Continental side. It makes pretty good steak Diane, and when it serves duck breast it comes in snappy raspberry sauce with the ineffably Continental touch of Chambord liqueur. One of the best appetizers is a wonderful shrimp cocktail, made with huge, sweet prawns and a cocktail sauce that is refreshingly tart rather than being a sort of catsup.
At dessert time the chocolate cake is virtually a construction of fudge with a little cream squishing around on it. I've actually gotten cannoli with pastry that tasted fresh on a Sunday night, and the ricotta filling had for once been sweetened with a restrained hand. However, I've also had a totally unsweetened zabaglione, a faintly revolting froth of whipped eggs. Pay attention now, there's a difference between restraint and pure error.
Say you want to eat not on Restaurant Row but near it. Cafe Rimini is what's happening on reasonable, reliable old San Vicente Boulevard.
Cafe Rimini, 476 S. San Vicente Blvd., L.A., (213) 655-9249. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, for dinner nightly. Beer and wine. Street parking. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $30 to $50.