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EATS: in and around the Valley | TIDBITS

Cooking for You : Signature Grill chef hopes to draw diners by catering to their special likes.


Eli Tordjman, chef at Signature Grill in Sherman Oaks, has a question for you:

"Everybody has his own lawyer, and his own doctor, and his own mechanic. Why not your own chef?"

If you think that's just Tordjman's way of saying he wants repeat customers, it is and it isn't. To be sure, Tordjman wants customers to come back, but he thinks he can get people to do so if he caters to their special likes and dislikes.

"In Europe, some families go to the same restaurant for generations, and they let the chef get to know them," Tordjman says. "This way they can be sure to get something specially for themselves when they come in. I think that's a good idea, you know?"

Tordjman took over as chef at Signature Grill some four months ago and recently overhauled the menu; owner Sam Fogel opened the place just before New Year's.

"We try to have a little of both California and Europe here--a little of France, a little of Italy, a little of Greece and a little of California."

Tordjman is a third-generation chef; he trained at the Frieman Culinary Academy in Versailles, France, and began his career in Paris more than 35 years ago. Immigrating to the United States, he worked at Cafe Noir in San Pedro and the Ma Maison Hotel in Denver before taking over at Signature Grill.

Among his specialties:

* Salmon Osaka wrapped in seaweed tempura with eggplant, Asian rice and a wasabi sauce;

* Spaghetti Acropolis with lamb stew, feta cheese, kalamata olives and pine nuts in a rosemary sauce;

* An appetizer of pepper-crusted ahi tuna served rare with rice, noodle salad and a ponzu sauce;

* A vegetable spring roll appetizer with a ginger and plum dipping sauce and hot Chinese mustard.

For dessert Tordjman offers a profiterole pastry stuffed with ice cream and hot chocolate, a Bavarian cream in a Florentine cookie, and an apple strudel with vanilla bean ice cream.

Prices range to $8.95 for the appetizers, to $19.95 for the entrees and to $6.50 for the desserts.

Signature Grill seats 150; the restaurant has a banquet room seating another 150 for private parties. It serves dinner seven nights a week, lunch Monday through Saturday, brunch on Sunday. It is at 14755 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, (818) 788-5200.


Larry Levine, who runs Monty's Steak House in Woodland Hills, is another man who likes to surprise people with new foods--for example, the salt-and-pepper shrimp that recently showed up on Levine's menu.

Toward the end of a recent wine-tasting session for his employees, Levine popped out of the kitchen bearing a platter of the dish, which is meant to be eaten shell and all.

If his employees liked it, Levine said, he'd put it on the menu. They did, and he did--but not before he concocted another new dish called tomato buffalo, made with thick slices of tomato covered with blue cheese and olive oil.

The restaurant's employees liked that as well, so it too is now on the menu.

Levine experiments daily with his luncheon specials featuring chicken, fish and beef.

Levine also features the wines of different vineyards each month, offering them by the glass or the bottle.

Monty's is at 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Woodland Hills, (818) 716-9736.


Last but not least, Vijay Talwar offers half a dozen new dishes at his Jewel of India restaurant in Sherman Oaks, which must be one of the most unusual restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Talwar founded his first place, Star Cuisine of India, in Manhattan Beach some years ago, next door to a Greek cafe, which soon closed, leaving its customers without a ready supply of such items as a lamb sandwich with humus.

They trooped next door to Talwar's place and convinced him they would become regulars if he added some Greek dishes to his menu--which he did. The tradition continues here.

Talwar prepares his Indian dishes with neither oil, curry powder, nor what Indians call ghee--clarified butter. Instead he uses fresh herbs and spices, and he steams, broils or bakes everything.

Among the new items on Talwar's lunch buffet: spinach and mushrooms, eggplant with potatoes, Bombay potatoes and a dish called Punjabi khadi--rolled balls of vegetables cooked with yogurt and chickpea flour.

The lunch buffet goes for $5.99.

His Greek dishes include a vegetarian falafel plate, chicken and lamb kebabs, gyros and a Greek salad, at prices ranging under $8.95.

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


* 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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