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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Playing With Matches Leads to Some Great Marriages

May 09, 1991|HENRY CHU

The sign outside says "California Ristorante," and it's your first clue that wining and dining at Pasta Mesa won't be some ersatz facsimile of a meal in Tuscany or Naples or Milan.

Take, for example, the fettuccine Santa Fe. Southern Europe meets the Southwest United States in this lip-smacking concoction of broiled chicken sauteed with peppers, cilantro and tequila, all woven into a generous loom of fettuccine and coated with a rich cream jalapeno sauce.

Or there's the Thai chicken linguine, a tasty combination served up in a spicy peanut-ginger sauce.

"Pasta pretty much has little or no taste, so you can be creative with it," said owner Jim Walker, who opened the restaurant almost two years ago.

For seafood lovers, Pasta Mesa offers several frutti de mare dishes, ranging from scampi to scallops. The linguine with clam sauce is probably the most standard selection, but it's still a savory and well-prepared dish.

You'll need to be careful to save room for your entree, though, because while you wait at one of the granite-pink tables, you can receive unlimited refills of a simple but zesty house salad and garlic bread sticks fresh out of the oven. The bread sticks are piping hot, and it becomes second nature to reach for more as you try to decipher the elementary Italian phrases painted on the walls.

For dessert, plenty of pastries are available, but try the cannoli, a hollow pastry shell stuffed with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. (One serving is rich enough for two people, especially if you've finished your entree.)

Pasta Mesa's inventive, quirky bill of fare manages to stay reasonably priced. The most expensive items on the menu--veal parmigiana and a couple of the seafood dishes--are $11.95.

The ceiling is low, and conversation can be hard to hear, but for a meal that pleases the palate-- and packs a wallop in novelty and charm--you won't be disappointed.

Pasta Mesa, 212 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, till 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. (714) 642-7488.

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