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DISCOVERY

Da Bianca Trattoria

January 23, 1991|ELENA BRUNET

"In Italy, eating is like a rite: Food is as important as religion and politics," said Bianca Bavand, owner of Da Bianca Trattoria. "It's something to keep the family together."

Bavand works the dining room like a good hostess, stopping at every table to chat with customers who either already are, or may soon become, her friends. She pointed out a couple who had been dining at the restaurant since it opened last May. And a group of people at that other table, she said, are regulars.

The intimate atmosphere of this comfortable dining room with 17 tables is only one of the attractions. The proof is most certainly in the taste, in the entrees made with fresh ingredients (homemade pasta, vegetables, fish freshly caught and veal newly arrived from the butcher) and in the inventiveness of the cook.

"We make everything ourselves," Bavand said. "Everything has to come fresh, not from a box."

"That's the secret of cooking--the freshness, and the simplicity," she continued. Not for her a sauce that cooks for eight hours or dishes overburdened with a single spice that dominates the taste. "It's the blend of things that makes a real chef."

Regular customers are eager to try new things because they trust the talents of Da Bianca's Italian cook, Enrico Giordano. As a result, most items are ordered from the chalkboard that lists the day's specials, Bavand said.

"Enrico always makes me something I'll like," one customer told Bavand. "He always surprises me." The man had never bothered to read the menu.

Bavand gives credit to her customers for the variety in their cuisine. "It's wonderful to be in this place (the restaurant) because it gives us incentive" to create new dishes that customers are willing to try. "The best thing is the people who come here," she said.

She had never worked in a restaurant before she and her husband, Artie, who had been a restaurant manager in Pasadena and Glendale, opened their first restaurant in Irvine nine years ago. The native of Sicily was one of 13 children born on a farm surrounded by their family vineyards. Her father wouldn't allow her to work, she said. It wasn't until she came to the United States 30 years ago that she held any job before she married and raised her three children.

Located at the eastern end of Chapman Avenue at Newport Boulevard, in the city of Orange, Da Bianca Trattoria wouldn't appear to be centrally located, but this doesn't seem to deter their customers. Its most prominent neighbor within the community is the Pacific Ranch Markets.

Only one dish represents typical Sicilian fare: involtini di pescespada (thinly sliced swordfish wrapped around shrimp, bread crumbs, herbs and later grilled). Other menu offerings represent all areas of Italy, as is suggested by a pair of line drawings of the Italian coastline bordering the menu. From Palermo comes arancini (rice, chopped chicken, mozzarella cheese, peas and Bolognese sauce, shaped like an orange and deep-fried), as does the cannoli alla Siciliana (a pastry shell filled with ricotta cheese and wipped cream, and topped with powdered sugar), which Bavand prepares herself. She also prefers to serve her own rendering of oso buco (veal shank), which she makes as well.

The most popular items are ravioli filled with salmon, the spigola a la Calabrese (grilled sea bass served on a bed of linguine topped with chopped, uncooked tomato, olive oil and garlic), and an appetizer, crochetta di patata (croquette filled with mashed potatoes).

Only a counter separates the cook performing his culinary magic from the seated guests: The open kitchen fills one corner of the dining room. Three external walls are made of glass, and the bright sun shining through at midday may tempt diners to wear sunglasses.

A love of food and cooking are intrinsic to the Italian culture. "Everyone knows how to cook," Bavand said. But when there's passion in the mix, a chef won't be satisfied until a dish is cooked to perfection. As Bavand put it, "It's a matter of pride."

Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. seven nights a week.

Address: 7448 E. Chapman Ave. (at Newport Boulevard), Orange

Telephone: (714) 289-1508

Miscellaneous Information: Da Bianca's sister restaurant, La Trattoria, is at 5408 Walnut Ave. (at the corner of Jeffrey Road in Orange Tree Square), Irvine.

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