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Eats in and around the Valley | TIDBITS

The Dinner Club

Dining group gathers monthly to sample a variety of restaurants.

April 30, 1998|JUAN HOVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Want to get really good service when you go to a restaurant? Take a hint from Lana Sternberg, a North Hollywood accountant and business consultant, and form your own dining club.

For more than seven years, Sternberg and as many as a dozen other members of her group have met once a month to sample the wares of scores of restaurants in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.

They negotiate their menu and its cost ahead of time and spend no more than $25 a head, including tax and tip. They meet Sunday nights--a slow night in many restaurants, and a good time to get personal attention from the restaurateur and the chef.

"I began the club seven or eight years ago," Sternberg says, "and even then, there were so many good restaurants here that we couldn't figure out which ones to go to first.

"We meet on the first Sunday of the month, a night when many restaurants aren't real busy and they're eager to serve us. We also like to find places that allow us to bring our own wine, and the restaurateur charges us a corkage fee.

"We ask for a round table so we can talk with one another. We like to take our time and have a good meal and enjoy ourselves."

A different member of the group arranges the menu each month, Sternberg says. Over the years, the group has sampled such places as Ca del Sole in North Hollywood, Gaetano's in Calabasas, the Greek Bistro in Encino and dozens of others--more than 80 in all.

"We've been to lots of good restaurants and some bad ones," Sternberg says, "and usually we get really special service.

"We walked out of one brand new place and refused to pay the bill because the owner wanted to charge us an 18% tip on top of the food bill and the tax, too. He finally reduced the amount, but we didn't go back."

Most of the group's members live in the Valley. They include a nurse, an engineer, a retired business owner, a computer graphics technician and two teachers.

Next up for the group: Le Petit Bistro in Sherman Oaks this Sunday. Sternberg and another member of the group, Diane Levin, met with Albert Emkies, one of the owners of Le Petit Bistro, last week to plan the menu--10 appetizers, 10 pasta dishes, 10 entrees and 10 desserts.

Le Petit Bistro is at 13360 Ventura Blvd., east of Woodman Avenue in Sherman Oaks, (818) 501-7999.

*

If the advent of daylight saving time has discombobulated your internal clock such that you find yourself growing hungry long before the sun sets, get yourself to the Gypsy Grill in Encino for the early bird specials.

For $12 a head, Executive Chef Christian Monchatre will serve you soup or a salad and an entree--chicken breast in a mushroom porto sauce, grilled salmon, penne pasta with chicken or angel hair pasta with a tomato sauce--plus dessert.

The specials are available 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Gypsy Grill is at 16911 Ventura Blvd. in Encino, (818) 784-7393.

*

Finally, the next time the thought of cooking for yourself and your family makes the shoulders sag, check out a new place in Encino called Catch 21.

Opened just last week, the restaurant offers healthy fast food--salads, charbroiled fish, barbecue and sandwiches--at prices topping out at $7.50, so you can't go broke here. Owner Guy Moskowitz runs four other Catch 21s. The Encino Catch 21 is at 17316 Ventura Blvd., (818) 789-3474. The others are at 201 East Magnolia Ave., Burbank, (818) 556-3330; 14006 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks, (818) 905-1066; 24501 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, (805) 287-3513; and in the Beverly Center, West Los Angeles, (310) 360-0441.

* 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@gte.net

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