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Nourishing the Creative Mind

Brentwood's Literati attracts many scriptwriters with artists'-loft ambience and healthful dishes.

November 16, 2000|LINDA BURUM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Coffeehouses tend to have distinctive personalities, especially when they don't belong to one of the big espresso chains. Legal Grind dispenses legal advice along with espresso drinks, Insomnia stays open till 4 a.m., Novel Cafe sells books. Other places give themselves names like Brewhaha, Buzz Discafe, Uncommon Grounds and Alcappuccino.

Literati doesn't sport a particularly clever name, but to judge from the line at its cash register, it really knows its neighborhood, which is rife with struggling scriptwriters.

The proof is in the decor: The ambience is avant-garde artist's loft crossed with Gertrude Stein's comfy salon. At one end of the room (its high ceilings replete with industrial-style exposed beams), a faux-log fireplace flickers cheerily. Writerly ephemera--novelists' photos, book covers, classic movie posters--adorn the walls, and the large, well-spaced tables offer plenty of room for notebooks and laptops.

Light on Meats, Heavy on Healthy

The food leans to nutritionally correct dishes with scarcely any red meat or dairy products. At least the place isn't fanatical on this point. As an alternative to soy milk or low-fat, you can get half-and-half for your coffee, and the kitchen does make eggs Benedict with good Canadian bacon, not to mention all sorts of omelets (using egg whites only, if you prefer).

A well-filled pastry case also holds commendably gooey desserts, including carrot cake, New York cheesecake and really chocolaty espresso brownies. On the other hand, Literati does offer slim desserts on its "Healthy Alternatives" menu. Of these, I've tried the nonfat scones and muffins, and both proved fairly tasty.

This is basically comfort food, but without its usual high calorie content. (The health focus is so pronounced here I'm surprised the menu doesn't provide fat and calorie counts.) There are good sandwiches on Il Fornaio bread, such as chicken slathered with pesto.

Salads manage to have a balance of great flavors without overly heavy dressings. The Mediterranean salad mixes hearts of palm, Greek olives and a little feta on organic lettuces; aged ricotta and pine nuts garnish the organic spinach salad.

The Soups Seem Just About Right

My particular weakness, though, is the changing roster of meticulously balanced soups. The carrot-ginger has just the right nip of spice to offset the sweetness of carrots. The broccoli soup is mellowed by a bit of potato, and fresh herbs and cucumber blunt the sharpness of tomatoes in the gazpacho. Several soup-salad and soup-sandwich combinations create meals with plenty of variety on a reasonable scale.

A roasted turkey breast salad with basil-ranch dressing was a low-fat dish that could easily compete with much richer versions. My only gripe was that the "roasted turkey" turned out to be slabs of processed sandwich turkey meat, grilled and diced, instead of real roast turkey breast. This "roasted" turkey shows up in several sandwiches too.

But a serving of the "apple pie"--actually, a 3-inch-high torte of densely packed fresh apple slices, sweetened just enough to fortify the apple flavor--made me feel better about everything, even though I didn't think much of its soggy bottom crust.

One night, instead of getting the vegetarian lasagna or the chicken-saffron risotto, I decided to test the kitchen's crust technique again by ordering turkey pot pie. Unfortunately, this proved a disastrous idea. A pie that starts out with the best intentions--hand-cut fresh vegetables and nice big chunks of chicken breast for the filling--is marred by gravy with the consistency of low-fat milk and an under-baked crust. (Though the menu describe the entrees as being "homespun daily," some of them, particularly this one, smack of commissary food.) Whatever the case, it's back to the drawing boards for this dish.

Aside from the few duds, I'd vote for this sort of light, healthy nourishment to fill in between calorie-rich restaurant meals or to replace any fast food that might tempt me when I'm rushed. The only down side is that I crave those espresso brownies, nutritionally excessive though they are.

* Literati, 12081 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 231-7484. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. No alcohol. Parking lot behind restaurant. All major cards. Dinner for two, food only, $8 to $32.00.

What to Get: Carrot-ginger soup, gazpacho, eggs Benedict, nonfat muffins, chicken breast and pesto sandwich, Mediterranean salad, turkey-ranch salad, espresso brownies.

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