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RESTAURANT REVIEW : The Big Apple by the Slice : Actress Cathy Moriarty frequently haunts the kitchen of her Mulberry Street Pizzeria, which exudes New York flavors.

June 09, 1995|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!

ENCINO — "Cathy will be cooking this Sunday," intoned one of the chefs at Mulberry Street Pizza when I ate there last week. "She likes to come in, roll up her sleeves and yell at us."

"Cathy" is actress Cathy Moriarty, who owns this Mulberry Street Pizzeria in Encino and another in Beverly Hills. She's Irish by descent, but judging from her style at the pizza oven--and her performances in such films as "Raging Bull" and "Forget Paris"--you might swear she was Sicilian in some past life.

Her Encino place looks familiar, a narrow Boulevard storefront with a long pizza counter and tables covered in red-and-white-checked oilcloth. The walls are crowded with movie posters, old gangster photos and shots of film industry folk.

But it's really not the sort of Italian place we're used to in California. Most of what I've eaten here tastes like what you'd get on 2nd Avenue in New York--with most of its virtues, and a couple of its vices--from the thin-crust pizzas to the oversized meatballs browned perhaps just a little too long in a saucepan.

Personally, I'm quite fond of the food, and I love the casual, New York neighborhood feel of the place.

It's certainly a great kid restaurant. You and your growing appetites can roll up your sleeves together and eat heartily, exchanging quips with the cooks--hale fellows who double as waiters when the food is ready.

About the only appetizer is a salad of iceberg lettuce, onions, bell peppers and some sliced black olives. The lettuce isn't very crisp and the whole thing comes in a huge, wood-grain plastic bowl, doused with an uninspired Italian dressing. (Of course, bad salad is authentically New York.)

I'd come back for almost anything else here, though. All the pizzas are available either whole or in individual slices, the latter being the way to go if you come alone or in a small group. Most are the thin-crusted sort, the one exception being a bready, yeasty pie called Sicilian pizza. (A whole Sicilian pizza is immense--nine bubbling squares, each enough for two people. No wonder the Sicilian, at $25.90, is the most expensive thing on the menu.)

Pizza with eggplant, fresh tomato and basil is great . . . even after it's been left in a warmer and reheated, as our slices were. Fresh spinach white pizza is topped with mozzarella, chopped garlic and a couple of spinach leaves--with no tomato at all. It's one of the most distinctive pizzas in the Valley. The plain tomato and cheese pizza is a little less interesting, even when garnished with pepperoni, sausage, anchovy or any of the other usual suspects.

There are sandwiches and pastas too, all the opulent Big Apple sort.

Spaghetti and meatballs, for instance, is a huge portion featuring two orbs of ground meat the size of softballs--big enough to make a vegetarian want to leave the room.

Plain spaghetti is practically drowned in thick red marinara sauce, the antithesis of what you'd get in one of our trendy Northern Italian spots.

The sausage sandwich contains two dense, sweet links, overcooked just as you might get from a New York hot dog cart. The sausages come stuffed into a long bun with sauteed peppers and onions. You could get heartburn just thinking about it.

About the only other possibility is cheese ravioli, a dish that seems vaguely out of place. It's eight or nine disk-shaped pockets of thick dough filled with dollops of herbed ricotta. Even as a foil for the restaurant's homey marinara, these ravioli aren't stand-up enough for a place like Mulberry Street Pizzeria. In the streets of Boston, where I'm from, real men don't eat cheese ravioli.

Don't even think about ordering cappuccino here. You should finish a meal with a man-sized mug of American coffee and one of Moriarty's terrific cakes, which the cook / waiters refer to as either "black" or "white."

Black is a lofty chocolate layer cake with a runny fudge frosting. The white cake is even better, a springy, eggy confection crowned by a light vanilla frosting. Cathy won't keep her figure very long on stuff like this.

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Where and When

Location: Mulberry Street Pizzeria, 17040 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Suggested Dishes: Sicilian slice, $4; pizza with eggplant, fresh tomato and basil, $3 slice/$21.95 whole; sausage, pepper and onion sandwich, $7.95; spaghetti and meatballs, $8.50; Cathy's homemade cakes, $3.50.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. to midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Price: Dinner for two, $15 to $24. No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa.

Call: (818) 906-8881.

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