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CARRY OUT : At Atrium Court, Delectable Goodies as Far as Eye Can See

October 29, 1992|MAX JACOBSON

It's hard not to go completely ga-ga here on the lower level of Fashion Island's Atrium Court. Try to have a little food in your stomach before you come, or you're a hot favorite to spend a week's salary on groceries.

Farmer's Market is the centerpiece down here. Before you get over to it, you are forced to run a gantlet of seductive goodies sold at stalls such as Pain Du Monde, Pasta Bravo and La Salsa. All these places put up items to carry out.

The market is off to one side, a Niagara of fresh produce, designer pastas, fancy salads and a series of glass-enclosed long deli counters where you can buy anything from a whole Petrossian foie gras (at $28.99 for about four ounces) to plain old meat loaf blanketed with school cafeteria-style brown gravy.

Those who balk at the idea of shopping in a market with decidedly upper-class pretensions might note that salad and deli items here are priced competitively, like those sold at more popular chains. No one twists your arm to buy items like Bumpa's ratatouille or any of the consignment of imported French cheeses flown in from abroad, after all, in spite of the fact that nearly every car in the valet has an owner's manual printed in German.

It's a breeze to put together a meal here. You might start at the salad bar: I packed a bubble-topped black plastic shell with salads such as black bean and sweet corn; an exotically spiced curry couscous rich with raisins and sliced almonds; some boring, heavy-on-the-celery-and-mayo home-style potato salad and several ounces of something called turkey paradise, an insipid pasta salad that my friend's dog dismissed with a sniff. The salads cost $3.69 per pound, and the possibilities for originality are limitless.

From there, you can put together a cold buffet from one of O.C.'s best selections of olives, cheeses, smoked fish and cold cuts. Kippered salmon with dill is soft, buttery and incredibly good, but a bland smoked turkey needs more flavor. Parma prosciutto, sampled at the counter, is silken and subtle, but far too stiff at $24.95 per pound. Our delicious epoisse, a pungent, semi-soft French cheese, cost $6.99. Some genius left the original French price tag, FF15.10 (about $3,) on the side.

I can't say I'm impressed by any of these hot entrees, although the mashed potatoes are killer, alternatively lumpy and smooth with successive bites. And $5.49 buys you a complete dinner: entree, choice of potato or pasta, vegetable and bread. Lamb shanks are a good bet, meaty and messy, but the pork chops are about average. Pass on the fried chicken, which is, in spite of the pedigree here, just supermarket chicken. All entrees come in microwaveable or boilable pouches, convenient for those in a rush.

*FARMER'S MARKET AT ATRIUM COURT

* 401 Newport Center Dr., Suite 401-A, Newport Beach.

* (714) 760-0403.

* Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday till 8 p.m.

* American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.

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