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CHEF DU JOUR

Romance for Pizza Lovers--or Just Lovers

June 03, 1993|MIKE SPENCER | Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff. and

Benjamin Bennani is a textbook case of the incurable romantic; as a matter of fact, he has written a textbook on the subject, titling it "The Cuisine of Romance."

The topic occupies prominence on the menu of his G&G's Pizza/House of Buffalo in Costa Mesa (see the Lovers Pizza recipe below), but it goes further: Bennani offers flights of fancy (he's also a licensed pilot) for lovers to Catalina, where he wines and dines them at an idyllic spot overlooking the ocean.

"I guess it's just in my blood," says Bennani, who was born of Italian parents in Canada, where he received his training at the Institute du Tourisme in Montreal before beginning his apprenticeship in restaurants in France and Switzerland.

He says his education convinced him that certain foods have aphrodisiac qualities--and even if they don't, good food and pleasant surroundings are both essential to romance. So he likes to supply both.

But he's also a knowledgeable businessman (he's self-published a book on that, too), which explains the House of Buffalo part of his restaurant's name.

"If you want to be successful in this business, you have to have something different," says Bennani, "and we are the only restaurant around offering buffalo meat. We have buffalo burgers on the menu and buffalo pizza."

It took some educating on his part to sell customers at first, he says. "Most of them associated buffalo only with Buffalo wings, which are not made from buffalo at all; they're chicken wings and named after the city of Buffalo.

"Then we had to get them to try real buffalo meat; it's delicious, you know--a little sweet, but very, very low in fat and cholesterol."

Now he sells several hundred pounds of buffalo a week, both in menu dishes and takeout packages of the raw meat.

But, back to romance . . . .

Bennani says the purpose of a romantic meal is to spend time together enjoying the food, not in the kitchen preparing it. So, he says, either have someone else (such as himself) do the work, or make it as easy as possible.

To the latter end, he has included some shortcuts in the following recipe.

At the restaurant, all the dough and sauces are made from scratch, but he suggests you use prepared dough and canned sauce to save time for the business at hand.

LOVERS PIZZA

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

2 chicken breasts, boned, skinned and cut into strips

1 cup commercial Cajun sauce

2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1 ready-made pizza crust

1/2 cup commercial pizza sauce

1/2 cup mozzarella, diced

1/2 cup roasted peanuts

*

Heat oil in heavy sauce pan. Saute chicken until done (about 5 minutes per side). Mix Cajun sauce and cilantro. Place chicken in shallow dish and cover with sauce. Marinate for 24 hours in refrigerator. When ready to eat, spread chicken, pizza sauce, cheese and peanuts over the crust. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes on pizza pan or cookie sheet (just enough to melt cheese and heat other ingredients through. (2 servings.)

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