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An Andalusian Feast

West Hills restaurateur adds Spanish cuisine to Valley dining scene.


Luis Gomez opened his El Patio Andaluz in West Hills only two months ago, and already he has a host of new entrees and other items on his adventurous menu.

El Patio Andaluz serves the cuisine of Spain--not widely known in Southern California--and, in so doing, adds yet another ingredient to the frothy stew known as the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley.

Like the Italians, the Spanish do much of their cooking in olive oil, which they press from some of the grandest and oldest olive trees in Europe, and they love to serve their main dishes over rice. And what wine is to French cooking, sherry is to Spanish.

Gomez, a Madrileno, and his chef Jose Torres, who hails from Barcelona, adapt to American tastes by using canola oil to cook three new fish-and-chip appetizers on their menu. They have also added a chicken vegetable soup and a beef vegetable soup, plus five salads and a gazpacho Andaluz, served not as a salad but as a drink.

Prices for these items range from $4.95 for the gazpacho to $12.95 for one of the fish-and-chip appetizers.

Four of the restaurant's new entrees reflect the Spanish affection for rice: arroz con pollo, or chicken and vegetables cooked in sherry over Spanish rice; a similar dish, arroz Costa Brava, also consisting of chicken and vegetables over Spanish rice; shrimp and vegetables cooked in sherry over Spanish rice; and shrimp and vegetables in a cognac cream sauce over Spanish rice. Prices for these dishes run from $9.95 to $12.95.

The new house specialties include shrimp cooked in brandy, grilled codfish, duck a la naranja, red snapper stuffed with seafood and served in a cognac cream sauce, two lobster dishes, duck baked in sherry and its own juices, and salmon in a champagne sauce. Prices go from $15 to $19; the lobster dishes reflect market prices.

Not new--but a must for anyone who wants to know what Spanish cooking is all about--are the restaurant's two paellas. The first combines clams, shrimp, squid and chicken cooked slowly over a saffron rice, for $12; the second adds lobster to the mix, for $25. Chef Torres cooks each paella to order, so the wait is about 30 minutes.

While you wait, ask Gomez to bring you a bottle of Spanish wine--also little known in California. He stocks a wide variety.

El Patio Andaluz seats 60 and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. It is at 7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd., West Hills, (818) 999-4598.

Sit Tight for Spuds: If you still need convincing that the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley offers an almost endless supply of good dining, wait until Alan Ruelens opens up Spuds Cafe in Woodland Hills in the next month or six weeks.

The restaurant will feature the favorite food of Belgium--fried potatoes--and if you thought the French invented French fries, think again.

It was the people of Belgium. In fact it was the poor in Belgium who, facing hard times in the 17th century, raided the fields for potatoes, carved them into the shapes of fish and other edible creatures, and fried them in grease.

Voila, les frites Belgique, and if the world calls these things French fries, well, remember that it was the French who, in 1812--which is to say, long after the poor in Belgium invented fried potatoes--forgot to take winter clothing along when visiting Moscow, right? So they can't know everything about everything.

In Belgium today they fry potatoes in high-quality oil, and when Ruelens opens his Spuds Cafe, he will use a special custom deep-fryer, imported from Holland, that produces crisp but not oily potatoes.

Ruelens will cook his frites according to a recipe in his family for four generations. Working out of a tiny wagon, Ruelens' great-grandfather traveled with a circus in Belgium before World War II, making and selling frites.

His grandfather and father made them for restaurants following the war, and now Ruelens himself wants to introduce them to California.

"In Belgium, frites are the national dish, and the people eat them with a special mayonnaise-like sauce," says Ruelens.

His Spuds Cafe will offer the traditional mayo-like sauce plus others. Spuds Cafe will serve from a complete menu for lunch and dinner, including a full complement of soups and salads.

Ruelens hopes to open by the end of October in the strip mall on the northeast corner of Topanga Canyon and Ventura boulevards in Woodland Hills.

* 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

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