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The Right Consistency

Spumante is deserving of praise for its solid service and good food.

October 20, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When I heard glowing reports about Spumante, I was skeptical. There are a lot of Italian restaurants on the Boulevard already, and owner Joe Salas isn't even Italian. He's from Spain.

Well, Spumante may not be the spiffiest restaurant on the Boulevard, and its kitchen won't set the world on fire, but the praise turns out to be deserved. This place is just plain good--and (a rare virtue sometimes) consistent.

It's a casually elegant suite of small rooms, full of tables with white tablecloths; there's also a trellised patio. The waiters recite a long list of specials (pay attention--they may include wonderful sand dabs or supremely tender osso buco), then ply you with a basket of excellent puffy focaccia bread.

Perhaps to honor its able team of Mexican chefs, Spumante serves great sweet corn tamales in husks, topped with sour cream and a grainy tomatillo salsa. When I suggested them for an appetizer, one of my guests raised his eyebrows and said, "You're kidding." Naturally, he ate more than anyone else at the table.

There's a clever salad called pastore: radicchio, endive and watercress tossed with an intelligent walnut oil-lime dressing that accentuates its bitter and sweet flavors. And there are two delicious soups, a silken lobster bisque and a simple, satisfying lentil soup.

Most of the pastas are homemade, but one using dried pasta, a penne amatriciana loaded with chopped pancetta and sauteed onions, is among the best. Homemade fettuccine ai funghi features three kinds of mushrooms and a rich, heady sauce. The bulky lasagna is made with sausage meat and pecorino cheese.

You can get crab cakes as an entree, and it isn't a bad idea. They're pure lump crab meat, fried crisp. (I prefer them without the accompanying lobster sauce, a heavily reduced version of the lobster bisque.) There are first-rate grilled lamb chops, which come in reduced meat juices flavored with rosemary.

The small list of Italian wines includes sparkling wine (spumante). An acceptable selection of cakes, including a serviceable tiramisu, serves as dessert.

The restaurant can be noisy at peak hours, but it never loses its cozy feeling and the service never misses a beat. And if Salas tells you your table will be ready in 10 minutes, you can take that to the bank.

Remember that next time you're trying to squeeze in a movie after dinner. If anyone can have you finished in time, Salas will.

BE THERE

Spumante, 12650 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Beer and wine only. Parking in adjacent lot. All major cards. Dinner for two, $42-$63. Suggested dishes: pastore salad, $7.95; penne amatriciana, $8.25; crab cakes, $16.95; lamb chops, $16.75. Call (818) 980-0734.

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