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New Addition From Argentina : French-trained chef turns out seasonal specialties at La Casona.

March 06, 1997|JUAN HOVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What is it that brings Argentines to Southern California to open restaurants? Already the San Fernando Valley boasts more than a handful of restaurants either run by Argentines or featuring foods originating in the cuisine of that country--Pasion in Studio City, Obelisco in Woodland Hills, the Gypsy Grill in Encino--and now comes another, La Casona, in Sherman Oaks.

Opened only nine months ago by Alberto Marino, a gregarious Argentine who learned to cook in France, La Casona has just revised its menu to reflect the change of seasons.

Among the new items: Great Lakes whitefish garnished with baby shrimp, mushrooms, scallions, capers and garlic and sauced with lemon and butter; salmon Provencal with a tomato and basil sauce; and ravioli stuffed with ricotta and pureed hearts of palm in a pink tomato sauce. Prices range from $10.95 to $14.95.

"We make everything here by hand, even the ravioli," Marino says. "We have been testing the ravioli for several months now, making only 30 to 40 servings a night--and it always sold out. So we had to put it on the menu, you know? When people like something that much, you have no choice."

The restaurant seats 150. It has a liquor license now, and just last week Marino installed televisions in the lounge tuned to sports events.

La Casona is located at 4449 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 783-0111.

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McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant in Pasadena will celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17 with a party offering music, mimes and face painters--and, of course, Irish food and beer.

The Knackers, an Irish rock group, will perform, along with the strolling Irish duo Mallory & McCall, a band called Wipeout, and a contingent playing pipes and drums. You can also have your fill of Irish food and beer, of course--green lip mussels, corned beef and crab cake sandwiches and clam chowder.

Proceeds will benefit the Red Cross.

And if you need to know why the Irish merit a toast or two on St. Patrick's or any other day, get yourself a copy of the recent book "How the Irish Saved Civilization," by Thomas Cahill, who argues, with only the tip of his tongue in his cheek, that it was the Irish who preserved the great works of the Greek and Roman worlds during the darkest of the Middle Ages and then reintroduced them to Europe as learning revived.

Italians, of course, say it was the merchants of Genoa and Venice who did the job while trading in the Middle East. For that matter, the peoples of the Middle East argue that, had they not preserved Homer, Plato and the rest, the Italians would have gone home richer but no wiser in the first place.

To which the Irish say: But the Italians don't have a St. Patrick, and the peoples of the Middle East don't have saints at all. To which the only civilized response must be: Don't fight about it. Have a beer.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant is at 111 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, (818) 405-0064.

* Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or fax (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at JHovey@compuserve.com.

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