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The Best Italian Food In Chinatown

October 04, 1990|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The streets around Chinatown once housed a busy Italian community. Now hardly a trace remains. The Anthony Macaroni Co. on North Spring Street is gone, and the Italian delis that were scattered through the area have vanished.

When I was a kid, dinner at Little Joe's on North Broadway always ended with a visit to the deli in front. There, in the dark, rustic shop with its sawdust-sprinkled floor, you could buy boxes of the same ravioli you'd had for dinner, containers of marinara or meat sauce, bread, pasta, wine, canned tomatoes, Italian candies and more.

That deli is gone too, filled in with booths and tables. But you can still buy the same boxes of uncooked ravioli and containers of sauce. Only you get them in the kitchen now.

The ravioli boxes still say, "Little Joe's Italian Restaurant, Delicatessen & Fancy Groceries, Imported Wines & Liquors," and, indicate the contents are "Hand Made." The ravioli taste the way they used to, but the price has risen to $5 for a box of 30. The sauces are $2 a pint, and you can get a loaf of crusty bread for $1.45.

Little Joe's, 900 N. Broadway, Los Angeles; (213) 489-4900. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Westsiders go to the Sorrento Italian Market in Culver City for their sauces and pasta. The market's proprietor, Albert Vera, has recently introduced a line of products under the Vera Ranches label. Three types of pasta sauce--marinara, Bolognese, and Neapolitan--are now available. I tried the Neapolitan, a brilliantly colored tangy mixture that includes a noticeable dash of hot chile. According to the label, the recipe is a blend of north and south, "Piemonte for its smoothness, and Napoli for its liveliness." And this sauce is lively indeed.

One of the ingredients in the sauce is Vera Ranches extra virgin olive oil, made from olives grown on family property at Lindsay. It's a full, strongly flavored, fruity oil. The taste of the oil also comes through in the Vera Ranches Italian Dressing, another new product. Thick with seasonings such as mustard, garlic, parsley and green onion, the dressing balances the rich flavor of the oil with the sharpness of raspberry vinegar and fresh lemon juice.

The olive oil is $9.95 a quart, and it's sold in bulk, so bring your own container. The Italian dressing is $2.99 for a 12.5-ounce bottle. And the sauces, packed in 2-pound jars, are on introductory special for $2.99. Buy three and get a pound of pasta free.

Sorrento is one place where you can get Auricchio Cheese Inc.'s sharp provolone, named best in its category at the American Cheese Society's annual judging held in New York in July.

Although the company name is Italian and the cheesemaker is Mauro Rozzi, this is an American product, made in Denmark, Wis. According to the Auricchio company, it's the only domestic provolone that is made with raw whole cow's milk. A natural cheese, it is produced without bleaching or smoking and aged a minimum of seven months.

The flavor is strong but leaves a clean aftertaste--a "good mouth," as it is called in the cheese trade.

Auricchio was founded in Naples in 1877 by Gennaro Auricchio; the company set up business in Wisconsin in 1979. The line includes nine classic Italian cheeses: Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Italian sharp, fontina, mascarpone and mild, medium and sharp provolones. The sharp provolone is $8.99 a pound at Sorrento.

Sorrento Italian Market, 5518 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (213) 391-7654 or (213) 391- 8969. Open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday to 4 p.m.

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