The restaurant chain called Louise's Trattoria has developed such a successful formula that the fourth outlet, which opened in November on Larchmont Boulevard, was an instant hit.
Night after night people from surrounding Hancock Park crowd into the small restaurant, attracted by reasonable prices, large servings, coffee shop informality and decent food. The place reverberates with conversation, which is a refined way of saying that it is noisy. It also glows, thanks to the liberal use of pink. Walls, upholstery, table tops and the neon sign at front display varying shades of the cheerful color. One wall is mirror-lined; another holds watercolors of the older Mediterranean-style houses found in many parts of Los Angeles, including the streets around Larchmont.
The four Louise's Trattorias have the same menu but express their individuality with daily specials. Desserts, breads and fresh pastas come from a commissary in West Los Angeles. The bread basket plunked down on the table usually offers both whole wheat-walnut bread and a portion of a rosemary scented loaf.
Pastas and pizzas dominate the menu--that alone should guarantee the restaurant's success--and pasta also accompanies the chicken and seafood entrees. This is not the place to go for a steak or even braciola. The only beef at Louise's is in the meatball sandwich or a pasta sauce.
One of the best dishes I had was neither pasta nor pizza but a salad, a glorious combination of spinach, tomato, mushrooms and crunchy cubes of pancetta with a Gorgonzola sauce that tasted like pesto. The pasta with pesto did not fare as well, sabotaged by a watery, bland sauce.
Louise's chopped salad, a generous pile of lettuce, sweet peppers, tomatoes and olives dusted with cheese was also wonderful. Servings are so generous that even the small Caesar salad, intended for a single diner, provided appetizer servings for three.
Among the pastas, try the tagliatelle with Italian sausage and ground beef. It's sparely sauced rather than drenched and very nice. Capellini with shrimp and dill cream captures attention at once with its delightful herbal fumes. Fresh dill is well suited to the delicate cream sauce, which, in turn, is just right for the seafood and fine strands of pasta.
Fettuccine with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes traded delicacy for garlic in its creamy sauce. That was not a bad choice, in my opinion. The sauce for the shrimp with red peppers in Pernod cream could have been the same because the strong note was garlic, not Pernod. Unfortunately, the shrimp were overcooked. One night's special was angel hair pasta with big chunks of eggplant. This one should quietly disappear from the repertoire or else undergo major alteration.
The one chicken entree that I tried was chicken Chianti--boneless breast meat stuffed with provolone and prosciuttini and surrounded by herb-flecked, red wine sauce. The sauce was more pink than red, faded by the addition of other liquids, but the flavor was fine. Linguine with plain, basic tomato sauce comes on the side.
After such hearty food, dessert holds little attraction. Some are worth the extra calories, but not the creme brulee. Only a feeble wisp of sugar crust topped the custard, which was heavy, approaching mealiness. On the other hand, a macadamia-walnut tart was crunchy and irresistible, and just-baked brownies swimming in vanilla custard should satisfy chocolate lovers.
The top price here is $12.95 for shrimp dishes. Chicken Chianti is $9.50; the tagliatelle with sausage and beef is $8.75 and the spinach salad is $4.50. There are both traditional and contemporary California style pizzas, ranging from $5.50 (this one is actually focaccia with roasted garlic, fresh herbs and goat cheese) to $15.10 for a couple of large pizzas.
Louise's Trattoria, 232 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 962-9510. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Reservations for groups of eight or more. Accepts MasterCard and Visa. Take-out and delivery. Street parking.