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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Pinot's a Stylish, Fun Space for Post-Library Checkout

February 17, 1995|S. IRENE VIRBILA

First came Patinette, Joachim Splichal's stylish little lunchroom next to MOCA. Now the Austrian chef, who owns Patina, and Octavio Becerra, his partner and chef at Pinot in Sherman Oaks, have opened Cafe Pinot, a California-French brasserie next to the Central Library. It's a terrific downtown space, all windows, with Maguire Gardens on one side, a soaring cityscape on the other. Come warm weather, it's not going to be easy to nab a table on the lovely outdoor terrace.

The centerpiece of the big open kitchen is a rotisserie where the house specialty, farm-raised chicken, served either with fries or red bliss potatoes, roasts to a juicy crisp. Wednesday's leg of lamb is threaded on the spit, and Friday's plat du jour is suckling pig, which comes with mustard sauce and cracklings so good you'll want an entire plateful. For those who eschew roasted piglet, there's always the day's spa entree.

"Of course we have a simple green salad" reads one menu entry, but why bother when Cafe Pinot's menu offers six kinds of oysters on the half shell, creamy polenta with rock shrimp, pancetta and asparagus, crispy duck confit with bean gratin or planked baby salmon with apple-smoked bacon? Not to mention desserts like strawberry shortcake and brioche custard pudding with chocolate sauce. Going to the library was never so much fun.

* Cafe Pinot, 700 West Fifth Street. (213) 239-6500; fax (213) 239-6514. Open Mondays through Fridays for lunch and dinner; Saturdays dinner only. Validated underground parking (enter on Flower Street). Major credit cards accepted. Appetizers $4.50-$7.75; entrees $12-$18.

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