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EATS: in and around the Valley | TIDBITS

Hometown Cuisine

Thousand Oaks chef gives his neighbors a reason not to commute.

July 09, 1998|JUAN HOVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you think they still roll up the sidewalks just after sundown in Thousand Oaks, get yourself to 2087 An American Bistro, across the street from the Thousand Oaks Civic Center, and discover what folks in that neck of the woods already know: There are plenty of good places to eat in this 'burb.

Under the direction of Steve Caman, executive chef, 2087 An American Bistro serves contemporary American cuisine with hints of Latin American, Asian and European fare. Signature dishes include a mesquite-grilled rack of lamb, catfish encrusted with cornmeal and a chili appetizer made with sirloin.

Caman moved to Thousand Oaks as a teenager and, except for a stint at the California Culinary Academy, has been there ever since.

He says he figured that people in his hometown might commute to work but not for good food. So he has always cooked nearby too.

"The longest commute I ever had was to Malibu, when I worked at Splash restaurant," Caman says.

"I worked at Le Normandie when it was about the only really good restaurant in Thousand Oaks. I worked at Saddle Peak Lodge as a sous chef, and then went back at Le Normandie. I was a line cook at the Sherwood Country Club for a year, then sous chef and then executive chef for four years."

Caman was sous chef at 2087 An American Bistro when it opened last year under Dezi Szonntagh, the restaurant's original executive chef, and took over the kitchen several months later.

Caman and Richie DeMane, his chef de cuisine, showcase local produce, and they change their menu frequently to reflect the seasons. A sampling:

* Pan-seared Copper River salmon with a sauce of red wine and shallots;

* Alaskan halibut crusted with Parmesan and basil;

* Mesquite-grilled filet mignon with half a Maine lobster;

* Grilled Wisconsin veal chop with white-truffle mashed potatoes;

Prices range under $25 except for the filet and lobster, at $36. 2087 An American Bistro serves lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday. It is located at 2087 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 374-2087.

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Do you know what Old Bay Seasonings are? If so, you know the secret to the way they make crab cakes on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay--and you probably complain about the difficulty of getting the real thing in the San Fernando Valley.

Santino De Felice, who runs Di Gennaro Ristorante in Woodland Hills with his partner, Cheryl Keller, spent some time along the shores of Chesapeake Bay not long ago, including in the kitchen of a friend who taught De Felice to make authentic Maryland crab cakes.

The key, De Felice learned, is the seasoning, and the best crab cakes come with Old Bay Seasonings. De Felice lined up a source, concocted a light butter and lemon sauce, and recently began offering crab cakes on the regular menu.

"I didn't like the sauces I had on crab cakes back here," he says, "so I made up my own. The crab cakes are exactly like they make them back there, but the sauce is a little different."

De Gennaro Ristorante is at 20969 Ventura Blvd., in Woodland Hills. (818) 347-3413.

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Speaking of crab cakes, you can also get them at the Valley's newest place, the Wave, in Encino, which opened last week. The Wave is the first restaurant run by Giovanni Bellisario, who cut his teeth in the restaurant business working for his father, Giuseppe, in his eponymous L.A. place some years ago.

Giovanni started out doing dishes at Giuseppe's and later worked the pantry, the kitchen, the bar and the dining room. He has spent the last 2 1/2 years managing Jerry's Deli in West Los Angeles. His new place, opened with help from his father, is the scene of a family reunion of sorts. Barbara Bellisario, wife of Giuseppe and mother of Giovanni, does the hosting along with Giovanni's sister Regina, and Giovanni's children Marcello and Mirella will spend the summer vacation helping out.

Giuseppe retired earlier in this decade, but you will probably find him helping out too.

Also on hand is Chef Franco Montalvo, who worked the kitchen at the original Giuseppe restaurant and later became executive chef at the second and third Los Angeles restaurants run by Giuseppe, Baci and Baci II, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Wave specializes in fish, much of it grilled over mesquite. Montalvo also does a homemade gravlax cured with fresh dill and the Scandinavian aperitif aquavit, plus Maryland crab cakes with a champagne sauce, Pacific prawns with feta and olive oil, and a "seven seas" cioppino.

The Wave is at 16925 Ventura Blvd. in Encino. (818) 905-6595.

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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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