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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Life Is Good--at Least It Is at Luigi's

February 27, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

Everyone who lives a good and charitable life deserves to have his or her own earthy little Italian restaurant. Not to own, necessarily (although that's not a bad idea), but to tuck away for occasions when you could stand to be reminded once again that life is basically good, man is inherently kind and a good plate of pasta and a glass of modest Chianti in the proper setting can be a more effective balm to the soul than a dozen Newport Beach shrinks.

To truly qualify, the place has got to be unbuttoned. It's got to be funky. It's got to be friendly. It's got to be cozy. It's got to be affordable. It's got to serve good, honest food. And it absolutely has got to be run by a bona fide Italian.

Given all that, you can feel perfectly justified in adopting Luigi's as your very own.

Run by the Catizone family, the full name of the place is Luigi's d'Italia--a fine bit of truth in advertising, because you're going to hear a lot of good, throaty, robust Italian accents there, mostly coming from the direction of the kitchen.

Actually, the direction of the kitchen is pretty amorphous--"due north" would be a good guideline--because at Luigi's, the kitchen has only three really effective walls. The fourth is gloriously open to the dining room, and patrons can watch--and smell--their meals being enthusiastically knocked together by the staff.

Expect to get a lot of food, particularly if you order a complete dinner. This includes, in addition to the main course, a basic but tasty green salad, a side of pasta with the non-pasta entrees, and a small loaf of bread so fresh that by the time it reaches your table it may still be too hot to pick up.

The menu is fairly extensive, running heavily to many incarnations of pasta and presentations of veal. Most full dinners are less than $13, and most pasta dinners are less than $7. Particularly creative--and filling--is one of the specialties of the house, the Tortellini D'Angelo: chicken-stuffed tortellini with Italian dried mushrooms and pieces of chicken in a tomato cream demiglaze sauce for $9.25.

Depending on your definition, Luigi's has either no atmosphere or is fairly bursting with it. There are a few booths, but seating is mostly at tables placed in rows and covered with the requisite checked tablecloths. Adornment means Italian travel posters, and the lighting is bright enough to enable the finest scrutiny of the food. Which, happily, is a pleasure.

This is not intimate dining. It is much more like the high-decibel family-style Italian restaurants (unknown in Orange County) at which strangers are seated together and communal plates of food are passed. The conviviality is infectious. You don't dine here, you eat.

Luigi's D'Italia, 1287 E. Lincoln Ave, Suite D, Anaheim. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon. Closed Monday. Information: (714) 533-1300.

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