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Restaurants | First Impressions

Fabio's Northern Italian Menu Adds to Venice's Artistic Tastes

June 22, 2000|HEATHER JOHN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The bohemian chic of Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice has been a destination for the indie food crowd since Joe Miller opened his doors almost 10 years ago. Last year, Joe's was joined by Lilly's, and now Fabio Flagiello completes the trendy triumvirate with his 1-month-old restaurant, Fabio.

Flagiello, owner of the eponymous restaurant in Hermosa Beach and the former chef of Chianti on Melrose Avenue, has remodeled the space that was A Votre Sante to include plush, oversized booths, soft lighting and contemporary columns. It's a mixed crowd, from artsy sophisticate to Hollywood mogul types, but the scene takes a back seat to the food.

The menu is Northern Italian, and seafood is the thing. I start with a delicious salad of grilled baby octopus and cuttlefish, dressed in an olive oil marinade, with crisp notes of fennel and celery root. The steamed white asparagus with fresh crab meat is equally delightful, but the lobster with porcini mushrooms and green lentils in veal broth is a strange combination--one needs to hunt for the lobster, which seems overpowered in a sea of overcooked lentils.

Main courses are generously portioned without seeming heavy. Flagiello forgoes the requisite cream sauce in his homemade fettuccine with jumbo scallops and instead opts for a subtle and clean asparagus puree with sauteed kale and arugula. Unfortunately on the night I was there, they were out of the two house specialties: John dory fillet and osso buco. However, the special veal chop on soft polenta with an earthy sauce and a drizzle of white truffle oil proves a satisfying alternative following my osso buco disappointment. Plump lamb medallions arrive heaped atop a grilled portobello mushroom in a red wine reduction. The dish is totally indulgent, crowned with a sauteed lobe of foie gras and flecks of black truffle.

The high point here is dessert, particularly where chocoholics are concerned. A warm, flour-less chocolate souffle is among the best I've had; it's served with a decadent dollop of pistachio ice cream. Tartufo looks like a scoop of ice cream rolled in cocoa powder and hazelnuts. Inside reveals an ethereal center of zabaglione ice cream that Flagiello imports from Milan. Fresh raspberries lurk beneath the burnt caramel surface of his version of creme brulee.

Starting in July, Fabio will be open seven days a week. If the restaurant can keep its momentum, it's sure to give its neighbors a run for their money.

BE THERE

Fabio, 1025 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice Beach, (310) 452-6364. Open Tuesday through Sunday: lunch 12 to 4 p.m.; dinner 6 to 10:30 p.m. Appetizers $6 to $12; Main courses $10 to $21.

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