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RESTAURANTS : Quick Bites for Young and Restless : The International Food Court at Harbor Landing offers a variety of fast, cheap, kid-pleasing fare.

September 16, 1993|DAVID B. GOLDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You're at home on the weekend, comfortably settled into a soft chair. A good book is in hand, or the television has delivered something worth staying home for.

Life is good. Except for a couple of minor problems: The kids are hungry and restless. Little by way of interesting nourishment can be found in the refrigerator.

Restless, hungry kids and a thin refrigerator do not make for the good life. Let us also assume that your wallet is only moderately full.

Do not fear. You need only leave your comfy chair for an hour or so, just long enough to direct the youngsters into the car. At the Channel Islands Harbor, next to the bridge, lies the International Food Court at Harbor Landing.

At the Food Court you'll get the feeling you are eating--one does not dine here--at a seaside carousel. The ceilings are high and light, the tiled floors are of whites and blues. Overhead, colored flags move gently. The food outlets are grouped around a common seating area. Or step outside, to tables on the patio that overlook rows of sail and power boats, nestled in their berths.

One of the virtues of the Food Court, from a parental point of view, is that there'll be few arguments of the "what'll we have to eat?" variety. Five outlets are grouped here, plus a dessert operation.

On the left, as you walk in, is the source of the barbecued meat aroma you smell from outside. The Kansas City Bar-B-Q bills itself as the home of the "famous" tri-tip Sloppy Joe ($5). That may be. The sandwich's sauce does seem to be made of those K. C. staples, vinegar and tomatoes, and it's a pretty good sandwich, if a bit too sweet. Just give the sauce enough time to soak into the bread.

The kids will love it, although the restaurant hasn't quite got its act together yet: They've got a hot sauce and a mild one--the wrong one was on two of my orders. The garlic bread can come cold, and the beef ribs on the dinner ($8) are a bit fatty. The chicken dinner ($8) is a pretty good bet.

Next door is the Court's largest operation, the Fisherman's House, which boasts a fine selection of beers and a seven-seat sushi bar.

They do a lot of business in fried fish, but I found the fish and chips ($3.49) to consist of flavorless, watery fish, and limp fried potatoes.

I got more enthusiastic about an order of California rolls ($6.50) or, more importantly, the yellowtail collar ($5.50). The collar--a rich, juicy fish, which you can't always find--was grilled with the house sauce, sweet and sour with bonju sauce, and covered with shaved, fried bonito.

In the corner, next to the door leading to the patio, is the Sub of Subs. I can't say I'm a big fan of submarine sandwiches, but I could be converted.

The SOS Cajun tri-tip model ($5.50) is enough for two of the kids, maybe even two adults. It's loaded with quality beef, a tasty Cajun sauce, which is spicy but not too spicy, and lots of condiments, including mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and tomatoes. The bread is good and the whole thing is a real dripping mess to eat.

Across the way, the Big Hat Burrito Company menu needs a little study. You can eat pretty well here if you choose well. The fish taco ($1.75), for instance, usually comes with deep-fried fish, but they'll do it grilled if you wish. Even so, it's a dull dish. Using the attractive salsa bar helps a little, but even their hot green sauce doesn't have much impact.

Go with the burritos ($3.50-$5.25). You've got a choice of black or pinto beans, and here is another dish that can usually feed two of the kids.

The quesadillas ($2.75-$3.75) are good, with lots of both jack and Cheddar cheeses and lettuce, sour cream and guacamole. You can add chicken, steak or fish.

At the front door, as you come in on the right, is an Italian pizza place called Filomena's. They've got beer on draft, some pastas and a few specialties. I figured I'd try the calzone. This particular one ($4.50) was stuffed with olives, mozzarella and ricotta. The tomato sauce inside was a little sweet, and there was added sweetness, it seemed, from the cheeses. It's another dish that could keep a couple of small children happy.

The kids are going to love the dessert, over in the corner at The Ice Box. I did. I think I became a kid again.

The Ice Box features Colombo yogurt, which is OK, but also a good selection of McConnell's ice creams. Want a rich, gorging dessert? Try a banana split. They are not stingy with the servings, and mine was only the small one ($3.50). I shudder to think what the larger version is like.

The rich McConnell's rocky road flavor was the star, but it sure helped to have the strawberry ice cream, the pineapple-coconut, the bananas snuggled underneath, and the other toppings. I could hardly make it back to the car, to wend my way back home to that chair.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Harbor Landing International Food Court, 2810 South Harbor Blvd., Channel Islands Harbor. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, some restaurants open for breakfast at 7 a.m. Some restaurants take credit cards, some do not. No reservations. Beer and wine. Food for two, $7-$25.

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