Vivaldi Cucina is yet another popular, comfortable neighborhood Italian restaurant. The San Fernando Valley seems to have an insatiable appetite for such places.
It's an extremely friendly example. The affable Argentine-born owner is invariably behind the marble bar, bantering with the customers, "Cheers"-style. The room is cozy and even a touch hokey: overhead fans, straw-wrapped Chianti bottles and red tablecloths.
I like the food all right, but getting it to the table is daunting. On three visits, I got stuck with a waiter who had the irritating habit of walking away while you were right in the middle of ordering.
The complimentary \o7 bruschetta \f7 is sufficiently healing. It's a small toast round heaped with a first-rate \o7 checca\f7 fashioned out of nothing more than chopped tomato, Italian parsley, garlic, salt and olive oil.
There is a small range of appetizers. Mozzarella \o7 Caprese\f7 is delicate mozzarella with extra-virgin olive oil, basil and ripe tomatoes. \o7 Antipasto della casa\f7 , though, has the feeling of an afterthought. It's just a huge green salad piled up with folded salami, mortadella, cheese and peppers.
Pizzas take about 20 minutes to prepare. These 10-inch, medium-crust pies are quite good, with toppings that are restrained and intelligently combined, so you can taste crust, sauce and cheese individually. My favorite, pizza \o7 Scapese\f7 , comes with grilled eggplant, mozzarella, basil and both fresh and sun-dried tomato.
Pastas are generous and usually served nicely \o7 al dente\f7 . I'd pass on lasagna Bolognese, a lazy version with a good deal of ground meat and melted cheese.
But a few others are just fine. The homemade ravioli, normally served in a vodka-laced tomato sauce, are oversized discs of chewy dough with a delicious meat filling. (They are also available with a cheese filling.) Tortellini \o7 alla Trevigiana\f7 is a ridiculously oversized bowl crammed with doughnut-shaped stuffed pasta, sauteed onions, bacon, mushrooms and a giddily rich cream sauce. \o7 Penne all' arrabbiata, \f7 in its properly spicy red sauce, comes off almost austere in this company.
If you still need more sustenance, there is a wide selection of veal, chicken and shrimp dishes, mostly tried and true old-timers like scampi Fra \o7 Diavolo\f7 ,\o7 costolette alla \f7 Milanese, \o7 pollo al limone\f7 . The scampi are especially good, in what appears to be an even spicier version of the \o7 arrabbiata \f7 sauce.
For dessert, there are understated squares of homemade \o7 tiramisu\f7 and good coffee. from an enormous copper espresso machine at the bar. Wine drinkers will be relieved to hear that one of Italy's best Chiantis, the 1990 Castello Della Paneretta at $29, brightens an otherwise dull wine list.
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* WHAT: Vivaldi Cucina.
* WHERE: 4954 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.
* WHEN: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday.
* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $23-$36.
* FYI: Suggested dishes: pizza \o7 Scapese\f7 , $7.95; ravioli \o7 alla \f7 vodka, $8.95; \o7 costolette alla \f7 Milanese, $11.95; scampi Fra \o7 Diavolo\f7 , market price. Full bar. Parking lot in rear. All major cards.