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VALLEY WEEKEND | TIDBITS

Local Restaurants Make Plans for New Year's

Cha Cha Cha's party will include live tunes, magicians. Meanwhile, Tempo Mediterranean will have belly dancers and, at 2 a.m., breakfast.

December 05, 1996|JUAN HOVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Abbas "Cal" Calbassi, general manager of Cha Cha Cha Caribbean Restaurant in Encino, expects to fill up the reservation list for his popular New Year's party soon.

As in past years, the party will feature live music, magicians and even tarot card readers for those curious about what the coming year may bring--as opposed to those who just want to put the past one to rest.

Cha Cha Cha seats 194, and it has sold out every New Year's party since it opened five years ago. There are Cha Cha Cha restaurants in Los Angeles and Long Beach as well.

Chef Steven Maxey expects to serve his New Year's guests such items as sherried lobster bisque, braised vegetable salad, chicken breast stuffed with orzo and macadamia nut pesto, mahi mahi in a banana leaf, and chile-encrusted lamb. Desserts will include the restaurant's signature banana cream pie and Caribbean bread pudding.

Cha Cha Cha Caribbean Restaurant is at 17499 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-3600.

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The Sharoni brothers, Ygal and chef Avner, who founded Tempo Mediterranean Bar & Grill in Encino 20 years ago, opened a second restaurant, Gilli Grill, at 7661 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles, just last month.

The Sharonis will host their traditional New Year's Eve party at Tempo, with belly dancers, a magic show and live music. For $55 diners get a choice of five entrees with appetizer and dessert--and those who make it to 2 a.m. will get breakfast as well.

Tempo Mediterranean Bar & Grill is at 16610 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 905-5855.

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The San Fernando Valley has its roots in the solid middle-class comfort, not to say conformity, that ordinary Americans craved after World War II came to an end half a century ago.

But these days, the Valley's restaurant scene is anything but dull, and you can take Vijay Talwar's Jewel of India restaurant in Sherman Oaks as an outstanding example.

Talwar's menu offers the traditional cuisine of his native India along with a variety of Greek dishes--an adventurous pairing that Talwar stumbled onto after he founded his first restaurant, Star Cuisine of India, in Manhattan Beach some years ago.

A Greek cafe next door had closed, leaving its customers, many of them aerospace workers, to hanker after such items as a lamb sandwich with humus.

They trooped into Talwar's Star Cuisine of India--and gave him an idea how to make them regular customers.

"They asked me why I didn't serve Greek food," Talwar says. "I told them because I ran an Indian restaurant, but then I got to thinking, 'Why not?' So I hired the chef from the Greek restaurant, and ever since, we've served both Greek and Indian foods in Manhattan Beach.

"All this happened in 1992 and 1993. Then when I opened Jewel of India here in Sherman Oaks, I decided to serve some Greek food here, too--and it worked again."

Of the 75 items on the restaurant's menu, two-thirds are Indian and the rest are Greek, Talwar says.

Not one to lag behind the times, Talwar prepares all of his Indian dishes with no oils, curry powders or ghi--clarified butter--and he uses only fresh herbs and spices. He doesn't fry his food, either; everything is steamed, broiled or baked.

Jewel of India is at 4523 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 986-8555.

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Valley residents find Cafe Provencal in Thousand Oaks a good place to eat before they go next door to the city's new Civic Arts Plaza for a concert or show.

Opened less than two years ago, the small restaurant features the cuisine of southern France, a heady combination of such items as flank steak with a red wine sauce and caramelized onions, sand dabs in a tarragon cream sauce, braised lamb shanks, and roasted duck in a green and black olive sauce.

Florence and her husband, Serge Bonnet, come to the restaurant business from careers as marketers, and they know all about staging special events to bring in the customers. They schedule wine tastings and multi-course dinners regularly; on Halloween they hosted a party with a special French Halloween menu.

"Next quarter, after the New Year, I am going to have a fashion show," says Florence.

In the kitchen, Philippe Renggli and Michel Lerond share duties as chefs--balancing each other, as Florence Bonnet puts it, just as the flavors of southern France balance one another in the cuisine of Provence. Renggli, 27, hails from Normandy, on the coast of the English Channel. Lerond, 52, is from Geneva.

Cafe Provencal is at 2310 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks 91362; (805) 496-7121.

Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached by phone, (805) 492-7909; fax, (805) 492-5139; or via e-mail, 103254,3561@compuserve.com

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