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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

The Next Best Thing to Free Italian Food

July 25, 1991|FRANK MESSINA

Sometimes, I have a dream that is inspired by an old John Lee Hooker album cover.

The jacket shows an incredibly large mass of people walking peacefully up a hill, following a sign pointing the way to "Free Beer and Chicken." The crowd winds up and around the album's back cover, stretching into the sky.

In the dream, I'm first in line, getting ready to dig in. But it's right about then that I usually wake up to the grim realization that nobody is passing out a deal like that in this life.

On days like this, I like to visit the Pacific Pasta & Pizza Company in Huntington Beach. It's not as if anything is being passed out free here, but the food is so good you won't mind paying a little something for a great meal.

Try the ravioli with its light, tangy ricotta cheese and spinach filling for $6.95. Inhale the aroma of fresh Parmesan-laden Alfredo sauce poured over fresh spinach fettuccine with hefty portions of shrimp, scallops and mushrooms for $8.95. Dig into a tangy seven-cheese pizza priced at $7.45 for a 10-inch pie.

The owners do pay great attention to the food and interior decorations, but somehow the atmosphere remains low-key and comfortable.

Stylish Italian greens, reds and whites dominate the inside. The surfaces are shiny--smooth vinyl, brass and Formica. The lights are usually turned way down, which does enhance the atmosphere but make it hard to see what's on your plate.

And you don't want to miss seeing what's on your plate.

The emphasis here is on fresh ingredients, a much-trumpeted promise by many restaurants that is delivered here. Dishes such as pasta primavera (inexpensive at $6.95), which features brilliantly colored vegetables--garden tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli and snow peas--with a rich Alfredo sauce, please the eye before they please the tongue.

Other menu offerings range from fettuccine pesce (a tender, flaky piece of cod served with vegetables in a spicy curry sauce--$8.95) to tortellini ($6.95).

Like many other trattorias, this one has fun with the pizza selection.

This is a potential disaster area, as the idea of "California cuisine pizza" has spawned some real stinkers (beluga caviar pizza comes to mind). But with maybe one or two exceptions, the Pacific Pasta pizzas work.

A couple of favorites are the white primavera (broccoli, zucchini, olives, mushrooms and red onions with ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheeses--$6.95) and the Sicilian barbecue chicken (wonderfully spicy Italian barbecue sauce with smoked mozzarella, onions and red and green bell peppers--$7.45).

About the only substantial improvement I would make would be to arrange for my sister to marry the owner. Then I could eat here for free.

Dream on.

Pacific Pasta & Pizza Company, 16532 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. Open daily, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from noon on weekends. (714) 841-7107.

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