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Entree to America

Former newcomer, restaurateur Gaetano Palmeri samples success.

June 19, 1997|JUAN HOVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you doubt that the idea of melting-pot America is alive and well, walk into any restaurant in the Valley, not to mention the rest of Southern California.

Chances are the owner of the restaurant hails from elsewhere--Europe, maybe, or Latin America, Asia or the Middle East. Ditto the chef, the sous-chef, the kitchen help, the waiters and waitresses.

Chances are equally good that the dishwasher hopes to become a sous-chef, the sous-chef a chef, the chef an executive chef, the busboy a waiter, the waiter a manager, and so on--and all dream of owning their own place.

The restaurant business, risky and transitory as it is, is the path into the middle class for countless newcomers to America from around the world.

Gaetano Palmeri, who grew up in a big family in Sicily, learned to cook in his mother's kitchen, cut his teeth in the restaurant business in Genoa and along the French Riviera, created cuisine on a cruise ship, met and married a California girl and, as he puts it, "jumped ship" for the restaurant scene 20 years ago. Sixteen years ago, he and wife Rory opened Gaetano's Ristorante--where the big dining room was recently remodeled--in Calabasas.

Gaetano's chef of 10 years, Mario Gonzales, hails from Honduras, and his sous-chef of 14 years, Rudolfo Lopez, comes from San Salvador. Like many other restaurants in this part of the world, Gaetano's has given steady work and a chance for a better life to many immigrants.

It has given Palmeri the life he dreamed of as a boy in Sicily.

"I looked around to open a small restaurant," Palmeri says, remembering his first years in Southern California. "I didn't want to go on working 14 hours a day for somebody else. I wanted to do it for myself. . . .

"When I came to Calabasas 16 years ago, it reminded me of the countryside in Italy--so beautiful, you know. So I took my chances here.

Palmeri said for his "first and only" restaurant, he endeavored to learn "what people want."

"On a cruise ship, people don't pay for each meal--they pay for the trip. . . . But in a restaurant, people pay for what they eat, and that means you have to be careful to know what people want."

Gaetano's specializes in the cuisine of northern Italy. Lunch dishes include grilled salmon with a Dijon mustard sauce, grilled eggplant on angel hair pasta topped with melted mozzarella, and a veal lasagna. The signature dinner dishes are a lobster ravioli, a duck ravioli with a mascarpone sauce, a classic osso bucco, and veal chops.

Prices range to $14.95 for lunch, $23.95 for dinner entrees.

Gaetano's Ristorante is at 23536 Calabasas Road, Calabasas, (818) 223-9600.

*

The Bistro Garden at Coldwater in Studio City will host a prix-fixe five-course dinner on Monday featuring Trefethen wines.

For $59 a person, diners get Parma proscuitto grissini--bread sticks, in a more mundane world--a mousseline of whitefish in a lobster tarragon sauce, a salad of summer greens, mushroom ravioli in a Parmesan sauce, beef Bourguignon, and for dessert a raspberry souffle.

The Trefethen wines, in order: a 1996 Riesling, a 1988 Chardonnay, a 1995 Chardonnay, a 1994 Merlot, a 1994 Cabernet and a 1991 Cabernet, followed by Cognacs and cigars for those so inclined.

The Bistro Garden is at 12950 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 501-0202.

*

If a five-course dinner is a rarity for you, then a 10-course meal would have to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, right? How about a 10-course meal prepared by some of the best regional chefs?

Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas will host such a meal on June 30, showcasing the expertise of 10 chefs, four pastry chefs and two sommeliers.

The masters will include Josie LeBalch of Saddle Peak Lodge, Neal Fraser and Angela Hunter of Boxer (Los Angeles), Jennifer Naylor of Granita (Malibu), Tom Munoz of JoeJoe's (Sherman Oaks), Verite Mazzola of Chasen's (Beverly Hills), Jackamino Drago of Il Pastaio (Beverly Hills), Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta of JiRaffe (Santa Monica), and David Rosoff of Michael's (Santa Monica), among others.

The cost, $125, includes tax and tip. Saddle Peak Lodge is at 419 Cold Canyon Road, Calabasas, (818) 222-3888.

* Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. Call (805) 492-7909, fax (805) 492-5139 or e-mail JHovey@compuserve.com.

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