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EATS: in and around the Valley | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Milano's Kitchen gets bravos for tasty Italian meals--priced right.

September 10, 1998|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Good meals can happen when you least expect them. Recently I happened into Milano's Italian Kitchen and discovered that nearly all the kinks I remembered have been ironed out.

Right now, I simply can't think of a better place for moderately priced, good-quality Italian cooking.

The restaurant, on the ground floor of a downtown Glendale high-rise, has vaulted ceilings and panoramic windows. The booths are big and comfortable, the house wine good-quality Chianti, the olive oil strictly extra-virgin. The waiters are cheerful and efficient and the kitchen quick on the draw.

A meal here revolves around sharing. On the table is a stack of plates for dividing up the huge, family-style portions. The Chianti (a bottle automatically appears on your table) is served on a pour-it-yourself basis. At the end of the meal, your waiter measures the amount missing and charges you accordingly.

I like to start with antipasto Milano, a generous platter of Genoa salami, prosciutto, soft clumps of bocconcini mozzarella and grilled vegetables dressed with olive oil. An even more comforting way to begin would be pappa al pomodoro, a soothing Tuscan-style tomato soup almost completely absorbed by spongy soft pieces of day-old bread.

One dish that's hard to share is the polenta cup, because it falls apart at a touch. This unusual dish is a serving of white cornmeal filled with a hearty mixture of basil pesto, roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and marinara sauce. Fragile, yes, but quite delicious.

The wood-oven pizzas, with their crisp, thin crusts, are exceptionally good. One example is pizza alla salsiccia, though it's for sausage lovers only because it's literally blanketed with loose sausage meat thick enough to hide a nice layer of black olives, caramelized onions and mozzarella.

Another is Firenze, with a Parmesan-garlic crust and a topping of sauteed spinach, red onions and sliced tomatoes.

Milano's is big on composed salads, which tend to be large enough to serve as complete meals. Oriental lime chicken salad jumps off the menu because it's so out of context, yet it's terrific. Frisee, butter lettuce and radicchio are tossed with tender strips of lime-flavored grilled chicken, toasted peanuts, sesame seeds and crisp rice noodles, all in a subtle rice wine and mustard vinaigrette.

Pastas are cooked al dente, but sometimes the kitchen's reach exceeds its grasp. Raviolini di zucca alla salvia are jumbo spinach-pasta ravioli with an insipidly sweet pumpkin and cheese filling, although the brown butter and fresh sage they're tossed in is delicious.

Among the few main courses, don't miss pollo spezzato--pieces of chicken and giant wedges of potato roasted in the pizza oven and drenched with a piquant garlic and rosemary butter.

For gargantuan appetites, there is braciole di maiale: two half-pound center-cut pork chops on a tasty ragout of mushrooms, onion, white beans and Italian sausage.

The dessert selection is surprisingly good. Crostatina di mele is a textbook-perfect apple custard tart, served warm with good creme Anglaise sauce. Affogato al caffe, a coupe of white chocolate ice cream, espresso, freshly whipped cream and chocolate sauce will transport you to Italy. But, hey, at these prices, who wants to leave the Valley?

BE THERE

Milano's Italian Kitchen, 525 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Open Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays 3-9:30 p.m. Street parking. Full bar. All major cards. Dinner for two, $24-$39. Suggested dishes: pappa al pomodoro, $2.50-$3.95; Oriental lime chicken salad, $8.95; pizza alla salsiccia, $8.95; pollo spezzato, $10.95; affogato al caffe, $4.25. (818) 244-1150.

Another Milano's location: 21550 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills.

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