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PARTY LINE : Strike When the Grill Is Hot

August 18, 1994|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I called the MTA and told them, 'You're going to throw us a party for all the pain and agony you put us through,' " says Atlas Bar & Grill manager Stephen Noriega. "I can't believe it. They agreed."

For three years, the street in front of the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant/nightclub had been torn up and the restaurant's business curtailed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro Rail construction. With the cranes and work crews finally gone, Noriega wanted to celebrate, and he felt Metro Rail should foot the bill.

"It's been real hell trying to get anything out of them," he says, "but now that they are done with the construction, they've started to warm up a little."

So last month, more than 500 neighbors up and down the street gathered at Atlas for drinks and hors d'oeuvres and to listen to former "Rifleman" co-star Johnny Crawford sing songs from the '20s and '30s, when the mid-Wilshire corridor was in its heyday.

"It was one huge block party," says Noriega. "First (the guests) ran over to Metro Rail and picked up hats and T-shirts and toured the new underground station. Afterward, they came over here and ate like vultures."

Then things got rowdy. Just as MTA management bigwigs were taking the stage to make speeches, MTA bus strikers blocked their path and their leader, labor activist Eric Mann, grabbed the mike. MTA police nabbed the protesters, attempting to pull them aside, while TV news crews happily captured the whole scene on video tape.

While all this was going on, Noriega calmly stood by, grinning. "It was quite the scandal and I sort of provoked it," he says. "Eric Mann told me he would be making some kind of statement. So I told him, 'That's a great idea, I'll get you press (coverage).' Of course, I didn't let the MTA know I was back-stabbing them."

At least all agreed that they liked the food. Long before the party ended, every last Thai duck taquito had disappeared. So had the guava-and-goat cheese quesadillas , the beef satay, the penne pasta with grilled chicken and ginger. . . .

Councilman Nate Holden ate two helpings of the penne. "The guy was ravenous," says Noriega, "and he didn't stop eating."

*

After testing this pasta dish, created by Atlas chef Tino Gomez, we understood why Councilman Holden wanted seconds. It's quick and easy and delicious.

PENNE PASTA WITH GRILLED CHICKEN AND GINGER 1 pound penne pasta Salt 1/4 cup olive oil 2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger 2 teaspoons chopped garlic 4 ounces chicken broth 1/4 cup chopped cilantro 2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes, seeded 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, grilled and chopped into chunks Freshly ground pepper 4 green onions, chopped

Cook penne in boiling salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add ginger and garlic. Saute until lightly brown. Add chicken broth, cilantro, tomatoes, pepper flakes, chicken and penne. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped green onions. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

867 calories; 317 mg sodium; 154 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 91 grams carbohydrates; 72 grams protein; 1.13 grams fiber.

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