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Valley Life | restaurant review

Riviera San Remo

Skip the antipasto and try mussels with focaccia bread, and then an espresso martini.

September 29, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

San Remo is a little Van Nuys jewel box--coral pink walls, plush green booths, abundant art, subtle lighting. Even when it's crowded, it retains a feeling of intimacy.

Its food isn't complicated, but most of it will satisfy a discerning palate. The menu was put together by a couple of Spago alums, Carlos and Malka Galvez. Chef Joe Galvez was long the chef at the lamented Adriano's.

Take the bruschetta: It's topped with ripe tomatoes, basil and maybe a tad too much garlic, but the real story is the perfectly toasted bread. Likewise, the calamari fritti isn't anything you haven't seen before, but the fried squid is light and crisp and the dipping sauce is a good marinara.

Cozze alla San Remo is a dish you might actually eat in that other San Remo--the splashy resort town on the Italian Riviera. The plump black mussels are steamed in a tomato broth you'll want to mop up with anything in sight, preferably with the great focaccia bread.

The antipasto plate is the only appetizer that needs real work. The roasted red peppers and marinated mushrooms are fine, but the prosciutto, mozzarella and tomatoes ought to have more flavor.

Among the pastas, the best might be the simple spaghetti alla Bolognese in plenty of meaty sauce. (For $2 more, you can add a couple of dense meatballs, but they're hardly necessary.) The indulgently rich penne alla Barese treats the tubular pasta to fresh broccoli and a creamy sauce. One more specialty here is penne al salmone, made with fresh salmon.

I was less enamored of the entrees, although the pesce del giorno that was featured one day, a filet of sole in a rich lemon sauce, is a dish I'd have again. But probably not pollo Vesuvio, a butterflied breast of chicken in a white wine and garlic sauce; when I had it, the meat was far less tender than it should have been.

Fortunately, there are better choices: the braised veal shank (osso buco) or the battuta di manzo, a grilled New York steak smothered with sauteed mushrooms.

San Remo makes one of the best versions of tiramisu in the Valley, long on cream and short on the ladyfingers. But the real star at dessert time is something that the Galvezes credit to Spago, an after-dinner drink they call an espresso martini. Picture a martini glass brimming with an icy suspension of Kahlua, espresso, ice and vanilla Stolichnaya, and what you have is an icy granita for grown-ups.

When they discover this drink on the Italian Riviera, watch out.

BE THERE

San Remo, 13727 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10:30 p.m. daily. Full bar. Parking in rear. All major cards. Dinner for two, $29-$45. Suggested dishes: bruschetta, $4.95; cozze alla San Remo, $11.95; spaghetti alla Bolognese, $8.95; penne alla salmone, $10.95. Call (818) 904-0499.

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