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One for the little black book

August 26, 2004|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Early or late, there's always a clutch of people standing outside Angelini Osteria on Beverly Boulevard hoping to snag a tiny table or one of the handful of seats at the bar. It can be a very long wait.

Enter La Terza, a new Italian restaurant that the Osteria's chef and owner, Gino Angelini, has opened on Third Street, which is, at most, 10 minutes away. For years, Angelini has been cooking L.A.'s most authentic Italian food, first at Rex, and then Vincenti, before opening his own place. But La Terza is the restaurant he's always dreamed of opening.

It has more elbow room than the Osteria, so it's a little more comfortable, a bit more dressed up without being at all formal. He's had the room to install a wood-burning rotisserie and grill, room for an outdoor terrace, a bar and lounge, and on the mezzanine, a private room and wine cellar. But most important, La Terza has a bigger kitchen, with a separate pastry and pasta room upstairs.

Without the constrictions of Angelini Osteria's small kitchen (which was not much bigger than your average home kitchen), Angelini has the luxury to cook whatever he wants. Every day, he fires up the wood-burning rotisserie and roasts Sonoma leg of lamb, ducks, squabs or whatever else inspires him. Fish and big steaks go onto the wood-fired grill, and the tantalizing aroma of wood-smoke welcomes everyone who steps into this sleek contemporary restaurant.

Angelini's partner is Claudio Blotta, former general manager at Campanile and vice president of La Brea Bakery. Blotta runs the front of the house with a relaxed professionalism, leaving Angelini free to do what he does best: cook. Blotta was once the wine director at Campanile, too, and his wine list for La Terza is an enticing, fairly priced compendium of wines from Italy and elsewhere that beautifully complement the food.

And what food! I loved a salad of grilled cuttlefish and burgundy-streaked radicchio and another of grilled quail and sage and crispy guanciale (cured pork cheek). Subtly smoked branzino (striped bass) is served as carpaccio with mache and shavings of bottarga (dried mullet roe from Sardinia) shaved over the top. Salumi arrives on a wooden board: supple prosciutto di San Daniele, pretty pink slices of mortadella, cured salame and more. The bread, of course, is La Brea.

Radicchio grilled over the wood fire goes into a marvelous ravioli filling. Cavatelli pasta is sauced with lamb ragu perfumed with mint. And tagliolini is tossed with shrimp and asparagus.

You can't go wrong with meats from the rotisserie, such as leg of lamb or Jidori chicken stuffed with lemon and rosemary. There's a thick slab of costata di bue (beef chop) or moist dark-fleshed squab grilled over an oak fire. And for fish lovers, branzino steamed in white wine with fingerling potatoes and olives or cuttlefish on the griddle.

Angelini is L.A.'s best Italian chef, yet with this new menu, I have the feeling he's proceeding cautiously until he has a better sense of what works and what doesn't for the Third Street crowd.

The restaurant scored a coup, though, when Nancy Silverton of Campanile, one of the country's best pastry chefs, decided she'd like to do the desserts. And so far, her take on Italian dolci is thrilling. Just taste her tender little ricotta fritters with sour cherry compote and dreamy mascarpone ice cream or her version of the standard Torta della Nonna that oozes a beguiling custard freckled with vanilla bean. They're both inventive and very Italian.

So that's dinner. There's lunch too. And on the weekend, brunch, giving Third Street a smart taste of la dolce vita.

*

La Terza

Where: 8384 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles.

When: Breakfast, 7 to 11:30 a.m. Monday to Friday; lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays; dinner, 5:30 to 11 p.m. daily; brunch, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. Valet parking.

Cost: Dinner antipasti, $10 to $16; pasta, $14 to $17; fish and meat, $24 to $38; desserts, $9.

Info: (323) 782-8384.

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