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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Paio Showcases the Intelligence and Skill of Its Self-Taught Chef

October 01, 1998|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Just down the street from Say Cheese and Trader Joe's, a new restaurant has opened in Silver Lake. It's called Paio, which means "pair" in Italian. The cuisine, if you call to ask, is described by the pleasant voice on the phone as "new American cuisine with a sophisticated presentation."

Paio is a minuscule storefront next to a gym. The decor is minimalist: lacquered red tabletops, one wall sheathed in satiny blond wood and, high on the opposite wall, box-like supports for a series of glass vases, each holding a single Gerbera daisy. As we eat, ominous rumblings are heard overhead. The music is cranked up to cover the sounds of would-be Mr. Americas pumping up. The gym, it seems, extends to the upstairs. But this, I want to think, lends the place a raffish charm.

The menu, I'm happy to say, is short and sophisticated: I could easily order any of the dishes; they all sound so interesting. One that we didn't, the cherry tomato soup, appears as an ameuse gueule: tiny cups of a rosy tomato-infused broth, cool and delicious. A salad of meticulously fresh greens and walnuts in a tangerine dressing is lovely too. So is another of haricots verts and mango. But the favorite at my table is a plate of pleated deep-fried wontons with a subtle salmon filling paired with stripes of plum sauce. The self-taught chef, Alisa Reynolds, has some skills.

My carefully fried chicken comes with corn fritters and wonderful stewed greens with a snap of heat. Sauteed lamb chops are perfectly nice, too--and an eccentric shrimp lasagna layered with portabello mushrooms.

For dessert, there's just one choice this night. It's Paio's signature apple tart with pecan crust, served warm, with a dollop of whipped cream.

With a chef of such intelligence and skill in the kitchen, Paio shows great promise. And it certainly bodes well for L.A.'s recovering restaurant scene to find a small quality restaurant like this one opening in a neighborhood far from the Westside.

The new fall menu starts this week.

BE THERE

Paio Restaurant, 2520 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 953-1973. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays for dinner only; Sundays for brunch. Appetizers $8 to $15; main courses $18 to $27. No wine license. Street parking.

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