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ANNUAL RESTAURANT ISSUE : Cover Story

The Magnificent Seven

Meet the Faces Behind the Latest Crop of Innovative Restaurants

June 23, 2002|S. IRENE VIRBILA

Angelini Osteria/GINO ANGELINI

At 14, Gino Angelini was learning to cook in Rimini, the resort town on the Adriatic where he grew up. He came up through the hotel system there, and had been a regional president at the Italian Chefs Assn. when restaurateur Mauro Vincenti discovered him and brought him to Los Angeles to become chef at Rex il Ristorante.

Angelini has been here ever since, following Vincenti's widow, Maureen, to Vincenti, her Brentwood Italian restaurant, which he helped open. But after decades of cooking for someone else, Angelini finally opened his own place. It's simply the best new Italian in years because it's truly Italian--not California-Italian or Italian leaning toward French. This is earthy and sensual Italian food, cooked with passion and finesse.

The current menu may be Angelini Osteria's best yet. For antipasti, there's vitello tonnato and warm octopus salad. Primi include a summery lemon-lime risotto with asparagus and mint or tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. He roasts veal shanks in the wood-burning oven and serves tender, sweet cuttlefish with tripe. No wonder Italians are turning up in droves. "He cooks like my mother," more than one homesick Italian has said. Now the rest of us can all pretend. Angelini Osteria, 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 297-0070. Entrees, $16 to $30.

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Red Pearl Kitchen/TIM GOODELL

Tim Goodell, 36, may be one of Southern California's most accomplished chefs trained in French cuisine. Though he's best known for the formal Aubergine in Newport Beach, he still knows how to kick back. He grew up in Orange County, so the siren call of sand and surf is hardly surprising. He also has Troquet, a bistro at South Coast Plaza. So he and partner-wife Liza had something different in mind for their third restaurant: fun and casual, the kind of place where you could relax after a long day.

And that's what Red Pearl Kitchen is. Housed in an old brick building in downtown Huntington Beach, the restaurant is awash in red silk lampshades, which set the raucous scene. Goodell adds Asian touches to his menus with brilliant effect, and he relished the idea of doing something more playful with Asian cuisine.

Red Pearl tempts the beach crowd with lots of little dishes to share--Shanghai skillet-steamed dumplings, Vietnamese spring rolls and winning Chinese five-spice pork short ribs with Thai basil, to name a few. There are bowls of soup thick with noodles, and a terrific dish of Chinese sweet sausage, rice noodles and lemon grass. Some people stop right there, but if you're really hungry, order up beef filet with wide rice noodles in a black bean and oyster sauce or the tangerine peel chicken with bird's eye chile. Save room

for pastry chef Shelly Register's kaffir lime and lemon grass panna cotta. Red Pearl Kitchen, 412 Walnut St., Huntington Beach; (714) 969-0224. Entrees, $8 to $17.

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Jar/ SUZANNE TRACHT

Women are rare among head chefs at top restaurants. Nevertheless Suzanne Tracht was chef de cuisine at Campanile and opening chef at Jozu, where she indulged an interest in fusing Asian cuisine with California style and ingredients. After her Campanile days, she and Mark Peel, who is chef and co-owner of Campanile, talked about opening a restaurant together. Before they had a space, they had a name: Jar. And by the time the former Indochine space on Beverly Boulevard came up for lease, the two were ready to jump. The result is a terrific American chophouse in a pared-down contemporary setting, with classic cocktails that draw a young industry crowd.

But the real action is in the kitchen. Tracht cooks food for people who like to eat: perfectly fried Ipswich clams, bright-tasting lobster cocktails, a salad of haricots verts and shiitake mushrooms fenced in with Parma prosciutto. She's got sand dabs, a seductive marinated skirt steak and a bone-in New York strip as well as an uptown pot roast made with boned short ribs. Her sides are delightful, too, from pea tendrils with garlic to a potato au gratin, and a mix of English peas, crimini mushrooms and pearl onions. As for her desserts, oh, the choices. Strawberry pie with creme fra'che whipped cream or banana cream pie? Or, better yet, that velvety chocolate pudding? Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 655-6566. Entrees, $19 to $29.

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Cobras & Matadors/STEVEN ARROYO

Steven Arroyo isn't afraid to change his mind. When Boxer, his clubby California restaurant across from CBS headquarters on Beverly Boulevard, faltered after the departures of Neal Fraser and then Brooke Williamson, he simply regrouped and opened something less chef-driven and closer to his heart--a tapas restaurant called Cobras & Matadors.

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