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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Italianate Empire Building

March 20, 1994|LAURIE OCHOA

In the North Hollywood space that was once Maison Gerard, Ca' del Sole seems more like a living room, suitable for dinner parties and cocktails, rather than a bustling restaurant. At lunch, the pace may be more frenzied--it's right in the heart of the studio district and has plenty of booths for dealing and schmoozing--but at dinner, things are more relaxed. It's a grown-up place to have osso buco or slow-cooked duck or Venetian-style spaghetti.

From the people who started L.A.'s Locanda Veneta and Ca' Brea (one of the principals also consulted on the restaurant Florian), Ca' del Sole is just one of two places opened by the group in the past few weeks. Il Moro, on Olympic Boulevard in West L.A., is the newest. They are trying to build a small restaurant empire without building a chain of clones--each place has a different name and a slightly different menu and attitude.

At Ca' del Sole, the menu encourages new customers to order several dishes for sharing, in the Venetian family-style. So far, appetizers (great for sharing) seem better than the pasta and entrees. Pale, cool slices of porchetta , slow-roasted ham, come with a good salsa verde. Grilled eggplant comes slick with first-press olive oil. Fresh artichoke hearts are tossed with endive, Parmesan and an herb-flecked vinaigrette.

* Ca' del Sole, 4100 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 985-4669. Pasta and entrees $7.75 - $16.50.

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