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VALLEY WEEKEND | RESTAURANT REVIEW

A Hardy Survivor Still Serving Solid Cuisine

Cafe Cordiale's salads, sandwiches, pastas and American and Pacific Rim dishes continue to draw a devoted clientele.

August 29, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maybe it would take a flood to stop Cafe Cordiale, because nothing fate has thrown at it so far has. In the Northridge quake, the restaurant was partly leveled and completely gutted by fire, but it reopened last January, handsomely rebuilt. It's back in business as a grown-up neighborhood restaurant serving an eclectic California menu.

Cafe Cordiale is located on a stretch of Ventura Boulevard where the food scene is particularly dynamic. Just across the street are a well-liked northern Chinese restaurant called Bamboo and the wildly popular Cafe Bizou. It's a few blocks from Posto, one of the Valley's best restaurants, not to mention the teen hangout Mel's Diner and the popular Marmalade.

All this makes it doubly impressive that Cafe Cordiale has retained its faithful clientele. They're a savvy older crowd, just the sort of people you'd imagine in a cafe with a mix of postmodern and conservative decor. On one hand, the skeletal ceiling is all exposed ducts and beams and the floor is an austere concrete slab. On the other, the two dining rooms are separated by French doors with white trim and the furniture is richly stained mahogany. On the tables are tiny lamps with fluted glass shades and silver bases, confusing the issue with a little fin-de-siecle elegance.

What comes from the kitchen is salads, pastas, sandwiches, American dishes and a heavy dose of Pacific Rim cuisine, all solid without being brilliant. The good fried dumplings look at first like tiny folded napkins, until you notice they are a bubbly golden brown and filled with spicy minced turkey. Though the marinated chicken satay doesn't taste even remotely Indonesian, it's a nice salad of soy-marinated grilled chicken.

*

Our waitress insisted that we try the Chinese chicken salad, and we weren't sorry. This mound of greens, water chestnuts and steamed chicken breast is rather top-heavy with fried rice noodles and sliced almonds, but the sesame dressing is startlingly delicious. The ingredients of the tomato and basil salad are chopped, rather like the topping on a bruschetta . . . and on the mushy side. There is also a subdued, even nondescript, Caesar salad.

The two pastas I have tried were the most accomplished dishes here. Linguine Cordiale is an appealing combination of the famous flat noodle with olive oil, spinach, green onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and minced garlic. Spicy Oriental vegetable pasta makes intelligent use of Japanese yakisoba, stir-frying the buckwheat noodles with onions, celery, carrots and tomatoes.

The turkey burger is a huge plate of food: an extra-lean grilled patty sandwiched along with grilled onions into a long, toasted loaf and accompanied by a pile of crisp fries.

The first four entrees listed are Asian chicken dishes. Here they are in order: a rich, mildly spiced chicken curry; a stir-fry with celery, carrots and tomatoes; stir-fried cashew chicken in a spicy Sichuan sauce, a respectable effort indeed; and sesame chicken teriyaki, just a double chicken breast with a bland teriyaki sauce and a couple of slices of grilled pineapple.

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You can get a hefty slab of grilled swordfish topped with cilantro and macadamia nut butter. The grilled salmon is a workmanlike version, though hidden under a nondescript dill and shallot cream sauce. If you go the steak route, have the petite filet mignon, a tender cut served on a bed of fried leeks.

Almost every entree is marked with a star, meaning that it can be prepared with no oil or butter, but when it comes time for dessert at Cafe Cordiale, stand back. The hazelnut caramel torte is a solid wedge of nuts and caramel, and the rich homemade chocolate mousse is layered with whipped cream. The lightest dessert is probably the airy, eggy bread pudding, reminiscent of the diplomat pudding you can get at Musso and Frank's.

That's an apt comparison. Cafe Cordiale may not last as long as that venerable Hollywood institution, but it has already proven its mettle in the durability department.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Cafe Cordiale.

* WHERE: 14015 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

* WHEN: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-12 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $26-$45. Suggested dishes: fried dumplings, $6.75; linguine Cordiale, $8.75; spicy Oriental vegetable pasta, $8.50.; bread pudding, $3.75.

* FYI: Full bar. Parking lot. All major cards.

* CALL: (818) 789-1985.

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