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Restaurants : WHEN NOT IN ROME : At Giorgio in Santa Monica, Good Food and Tyrant Waiters Keep Customers in Line

September 08, 1991|Ruth Reichl

Entrees--grilled branzino, some overcooked salmon, sliced veal--were served with spinach and roasted potatoes that had been sitting so long they had become damp. Desserts were about what you'd expect--a good tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake and something called torta della nonna (grandmother's cake), which was buttery and crumbly, sort of like a giant cookie.

The thing about restaurants like this one is that even when you have a meal that's pretty good, you know--you know-- that other people are eating better than you are. And so you keep going back, anticipating the best and usually not getting it.

On return visits, I've ordered the mixed grill of fish, always with that big seafood platter in mind. What I've gotten, however, has been a small, overcrowded plate filled with a variety of overcooked seafood. I've had very good risotto and some fine pasta dishes, but every once in a while there has been an extraordinary dish that proves what the kitchen can do.

Consider, for example, the mezze lune. What was set before me was a fine broth filled with the most delicate half-moons of pasta wrapped around a light veal filling. It was as good a version of the dish as I've ever had. Afterward, I had branzino-- perfectly grilled--and this time served with perfect little roasted potatoes and wonderful spinach. A cup of cappuccino and a few bites of that wonderful torta della nonna , and I was a happy woman.

Even if the waiter did sneer when I ordered the cappuccino. "In Italy we only drink it in the morning," he said.

I couldn't help myself. "We're not in Italy," I replied.

Giorgio Ristorante, 114 W. Channel Road, Santa Monica ; (213) 459-8988. Open nightly for dinner. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $40-$80.

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