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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Newsroom: Tasty Food for Thought

August 20, 1993|MICHELLE HUNEVEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Out on the sidewalk, a placard newsboy in real jeans and a real, if fading, T-shirt holds up a menu to beckon diners into the small, casual Newsroom Cafe. In the lobby of an office building on the corner of Wilshire and 6th in Santa Monica, the Newsroom is one of the few places I've found where eating alone is not only easy, but may actually be preferable, given the wealth of available distractions. Two televisions are mounted on the rubbed-gold wall--one is tuned to a sports channel, the other to closed-captioned CNN--and the volume on both sets is off in deference to the sound system, which plays sing-along oldies at a pleasant, unobtrusive volume. On another wall, an electronic billboard spells out highlights from the Menendez brothers' trial, casualty statistics from the Thailand hotel collapse, stock market data, etc. And then, there's the newsstand with everything from the New York Times to Sassy. By the time I've eaten a veggie burger, I'm up to date on both current events and celebrity gossip.

This is not to say one can't go into the Newsroom with a friend. It helps, however, if he or she is someone you like to sit around and read the newspaper with, or someone who isn't offended when you trail off in the middle of a sentence to watch Heidi muscled through a throng of reporters, or the Dodgers galumph about like a farm team. If it's conversation you're after, it is best to sit outside on the patio, which is shaded by brown umbrellas and buffered from Wilshire Boulevard by glass and greenery.

Otherwise, the Newsroom is a modest breakfast, lunch and dinner spot--nothing fancy. The tiny kitchen offers an interesting assortment of soups, salads, pizzas, sandwiches and chef's specials, all with a healthy edge.

On our first visit, we study the blackboard menu, order at the counter, pay, and take a large wooden letter to our seats so the server can find us. On some visits, one of us receives a meal before the other, but for the most part, the Newsroom's kitchen and service is efficient and good-natured.

At breakfast and lunch, business is brisk. Working people stop by for a morning cappuccino. Sluggish working people stop by for a sledgehammer: four shots of espresso with steamed half and half.

Some of the baked goods are sugarless. A sugarless whole-wheat-fig scone-o'-the-day stretches the limits of sconedom--all it shares with the genre is a characteristic blobby shape--but the fig does create an alluring moistness and chewy texture. A sugarless blue-corn-and-blue-berry muffin, while a bit ugly, has plenty of fat berries. My favorite bakery item is a dense, moderately sweet lemon cake with a marbling of fresh raspberries.

Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. Eggs are brown and organic. The huevos Cancun is an acceptable scramble with smoked chiles and soggy tortilla strips that comes with fresh salsa and a whole-wheat tortilla. The waffle, another blue-corn-and-blueberry creation, is far prettier than the muffin, and therefore more appealing.

Lunch and dinner share the same menu. The smoked turkey sandwich is delicious--good, sweet white meat with plenty of mayo on an excellent multigrain Rockenwagner bun. The Ultimate Maui Veggie Burger, advertised as the Newsroom's bestseller, is a very crunchy, flavorful fritter served on the same good bun. All the sandwiches come with either vegetable chips or the News salad--baby greens, mandarin oranges, toothpick carrots with a sweet (but not offensively so) dressing.

The tandoori chicken salad, a marinated, spice-coated breast on good greens, comes with papadam (crisp lentil bread), chile-coated cashews, and a mango-chutney vinaigrette.

The chef's special one day is tasty, if overwrought: an Anaheim chile stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in a pounded chicken breast and baked. On another visit, my friend Steve and I, who have made many a dozen meat-filled tamales together, feel compelled to try another special: the Newsroom's Oaxacan tamale. Steve, a classicist, is wary. "No pork? No lard?" After dispatching two thirds of the bean-and-corn tamale topped with an abundance of chipotle-corn salsa, we begrudgingly admit that the Oaxacan is all told, a virtuous tamale: no lard, but refreshing nevertheless.

* Newsroom Cafe, 530 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 319-9100. Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. No alcohol. No credit cards. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $12 to $32.

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