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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Touch of Takeout Class : Carryout kitchen run by operators of the reputable Seashell serves, and even delivers, affordable, stylish food.

November 11, 1994|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!

WOODLAND HILLS — Good news for finicky eaters with no time to cook: More and more upscale restaurants are starting takeout spinoffs. Bistro Garden at Coldwater recently launched a takeout operation, and now Dieter Wantig and Christian Desmet have opened The Foodshell, a takeout kitchen on the other side of Ventura Boulevard from their well-known Seashell. At this rate, some day the San Fernando Valley's more complacent Chinese restaurants may wake up and wonder where all the phone orders went.

Business is thriving at The Foodshell partly because everything at this smart little cafe is under $9--composed salads, ambitious pastas, even the meat entrees. Eat here if you like--that is, if you aren't put off by plastic chairs, glass-top tables and enough mirrors to make a fairy princess blush. The basic concept, though, is to take the booty home. The restaurant delivers, too, in an area roughly bounded by Valley Circle Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard, Mulholland Drive and Sherman Way.

Either way, The Foodshell packs up your order in black plastic shell dishes (hey, high-concept!) and bubble-top plastic containers. These are spill-proof, high-tech contraptions with only one flaw: They don't retain heat as well as you might like.

My friends and their children, Woodland Hills residents who live about three minutes from The Foodshell, were delighted with the quality of this food, even though their 5-year-old was crestfallen when she figured out there were no egg rolls. I was delighted myself, having always found the original Seashell restaurant to be a bit pricey. The Foodshell gives you a terrific bang for the buck.

The seafood gumbo, for instance, is only $5.90 a quart, and it's a rich, deep-brown soup redolent of saffron and chock full of bay shrimp and little chunks of spiced sausage. It even stays hot in its foam container, so you won't have to zap it when you get home.

Salads and whole cold artichokes, a specialty here, don't cause any problem either. A sign on the counter for all to see reads: "We proudly serve Cobb salad exactly as it was prepared in the Original Brown Derby in Hollywood." It works for me. Watch the chefs lining your bubble-top with finely chopped lettuce, ribbons of crumbled Roquefort, sliced avocado, smashed bacon and chopped chicken. When you get the thing home, just toss in a bowl with the delicate vinaigrette provided--the perfect amount--and shazam: You're in '40s Hollywood.

What makes The Foodshell's artichokes impressive is their perfect texture. Eat one with flaked salmon and its accompanying dipping sauce, creamy and perfumed with fresh dill, and you've got a fine light lunch. Another specialty is stuffed artichokes, which come with creative fillings like chicken curry mayonnaise, crab meat (real crab, not the processed fish product known as surimi), scallop sashimi and the one we tried, cold poached salmon with dill sauce.

Sandwiches come on French rolls or whole wheat bread, garnished with mixed green salad vinaigrette. The warm Cajun chicken sausage sandwich is terrific, featuring two links, about three ounces each, split and grilled. It's a fine, fatty sausage with lots of sugar and spice. Other sandwiches to try are the crab (again, made with real crab meat) and the good-quality prosciutto. They'll even line an entire roll with smoked Norwegian salmon for $7.95.

I wouldn't trust a delicate pasta like angel hair for takeout. It's easy to overcook and tends to go mushy by the time you're home. Fettuccine is somewhat better, though it will clump together after a few minutes in the car. That leaves the sturdier penne as the best choice. You can get familiar pasta toppings like checca (chopped raw tomato and garlic), and one unusual one--prosciutto and watercress-artichoke sauce--which sounds strange but tastes quite grown-up. Lobster ravioli with lobster sauce is another good bet. These thick flying saucers of dough have a light but intensely lobster-flavored filling.

Most entrees include cheesy scalloped potatoes and a side of mundane steamed mixed vegetables, but the chief component always maintains a high standard. Maryland-style crab cakes come three to an order, and they're buttery, crusty cakes, the rival of any in our area. The roasted pork loin is what you'd hope for from an experienced home cook, with its crackling outer skin and juicy interior.

What's more, every entree comes with a choice of good sauces, served on the side. Try the lime ginger sauce with the crab cakes, the spicy house sauce on the pork.

The Foodshell has a limited menu, like most takeout places, and as a result there's only one dessert. It's a good one, though, a deliciously creamy chocolate mousse housed in (what else?) a chocolate shell.

Where and When

Location: The Foodshell, 19834 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Suggested Dishes: Seafood gumbo, $2.95 (pint)/$5.90 (quart); artichoke with cold salmon, $5.75; Cobb salad, $7.95; roasted pork loin, $6.99; Maryland crab cakes, $6.99.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday. 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Price: Dinner for two, $13-$22. No alcoholic beverages. Parking lot. American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

Call: (818) 340-4676.

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