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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Pasadena's Oye! Serving Up Tastes of Nuevo Americano

August 16, 1996|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

In a tribute to her Cuban roots, Xiomara Ardolina has turned the back dining room of her Pasadena French bistro Xiomara into a tropical-themed supper club called Oye!--Listen! With its mirrored walls and pristine white banquettes, potted palms and windows swathed in billowy sheers, it's a cool summer retreat with a '40s feel. The music is evocative: Beny More's lilting boleros, Albita's husky contralto, the blare of Cuban horns. But Patrick Healy's inspired menu of Nuevo Americano dishes is the best reason to head for Xiomara's back room.

Black bean soup simmered with smoked ham hock, punched up with cumin and garnished with cornmeal-dusted okra "croutons" is wonderful. There's a delicious version of ropa vieja, an exquisite ceviche served in a martini glass with pickled chayote and a green olive, and duck taquitos, the size of cigars, to dip into a smoky chipotle chile sauce.

After 11 p.m., cigar smokers can light up. And between puffs, sample a small selection of "island sipping rums," including a 20-year-old Cadenhead from Long Pond Estate on the island of Jamaica.

Oye! I'm listening.

* Oye! Restaurant, 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (818) 796-3286. Open seven nights a week for dinner only; lunch Monday through Friday begins in about two weeks. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Appetizers $6-$9; entrees $16-$19.

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