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Valley Life | Restaurant Review

Smoking the Competition

Spark Woodfire features tastes to be reckoned with.

March 02, 2001|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spark Woodfire Cooking is exuberant and popular--don't even think about getting in without a reservation on a weekend.

The Studio City restaurant's menu includes baked pastas, thin-crust pizzas, creative salads and rotisserie meats, all in a vaguely Tuscan style. Nobody else in the Valley does these so well.

The long, narrow dining room has wooden tables (a bit too close together) and a partially exposed kitchen where meats revolve seductively on spits. If you find the room too noisy, you can sit on a patio, shielded from the sidewalk by a canopy of clear plastic.

Two of the best appetizers are mussels, roasted and served in a black iron skillet, and a delicate, lightly breaded fritto misto of shrimp, calamari and zucchini. You'll want to share the Spark Cobb salad, an eccentric twist on the classic that includes sunflower seeds, pancetta and a creamy buttermilk dressing.

The pizzas, essentially the same ones you'd get at Alto Palato in West Hollywood (where owner Danilo Terribili is manager and co-owner), are always among the best things here. The arugula, pecorino and prosciutto pizza is terrific. So are the pizza Margherita and the ones with hackneyed toppings such as sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese.

Pastas are baked in the same wood oven as the pizzas. Don't miss lasagna di Mauro, named for Mauro Vincenti, the late owner of Alto Palato. It's a dense, multilayered version alternating thin sheets of pasta, smoked mozzarella and a rich, meaty ragu. It's nothing like the familiar thick, gooey lasagna.

The rotisserie is also wood-fired, and the meats are generally pretty good, the two best items being spicy chile-rubbed chicken, and porchetta, an herb- and pepper-crusted pork leg that comes in thick, robustly perfumed slices.

The sausage that accompanies the porchetta and chicken on the mixed rotisserie platter is passable, but polpettone, a sort of Italian meatloaf, is strangely flavorless. The kitchen turns out a nice cedar-planked Atlantic salmon and an acceptable osso buco, served with a gummy saffron risotto. The lamb stew (spezzatino) has a properly gamy flavor, but too much meat and too little gravy.

Side dishes include green beans with shallots and toasted hazelnuts; sauteed spinach with garlic, red chile and olive oil; and roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary. These three dishes alone show why Spark leaves most of its competition in the dust. Or let's say, in the oak ashes.

BE THERE

Spark Woodfire Cooking, 11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily. Full bar. Valet parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, $34-$53. Suggested dishes: Spark Cobb salad, $10.95; pizza arugula, pecorino, prosciutto, $10.95; lasagna di Mauro, $12.95; porchetta, $13.95. Call (818) 623-8883.

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