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EXPRESS-ING AN INTEREST IN OSTRICH.

Byline: Larry Lipson Daily News Restaurant Critic

``We stopped making the ostrich soup. Nobody liked it.''

Consequently, I never got to taste what was listed as ``delicious ostrich soup'' on the menu of Chef's Express, a new, order-at-the-counter fast-food spot in Studio City.

Perhaps I'm lucky.

But I did get to taste the ostrich steak dinner ($10.95), one of four ostrich items available at this interesting food outlet.

And truthfully, the lean, marinated version was as good or better than much of the beef I've eaten lately.

First of all, it seemed to have retained enough moisture even though it was fairly well cooked.

And there were strong inklings of red-meaty flavor there, too, despite the obvious fact that ostrich is a bird.

But the vegetables, a mixture of mostly green beans with some peas and corn - a sort of succotash, I guess - were tasteless, almost completely void of any flavor.

However, steamed, seemingly fresher, vegetables on another night, served with prime rib ($9.25), denoted a vast improvement both in taste and texture.

Yet on two occasions the smallish foil-wrapped baked potato included with both the prime rib and ostrich meals was, at best, merely passable.

And soups here have definitely been odd.

One was a turkey rice recipe that had been thickened so much - probably by cornstarch - it seemed almost gelatinous.

Another was called simply vegetable soup. It left the distinct impression of combining a watery bouillon-cubelike broth with a scant scattering of cut-up veggies.

Even with the menu ups and downs, the prices of the Chef's Express dishes are difficult to resist.

In fact, the prime rib appeared to be an astounding bargain.

Unfortunately, at least a third of the medium thick slice was fat. Again ironically, the remainder of the serving actually matched in quality some of the town's better slabs of the same cut of beef, especially when doused with the accompanying ``au jus.''

Back to our feathered friends.

Turkey comes from freshly roasted birds and the sliced meat looks quite attractive on the open face sandwich ($6.50) with mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy.

But both the gravy and the stuffing had an institutional taste and texture.

Ostrich is available in stir-fried strips with bell peppers, mushrooms and broccoli or with similar strips atop salad.

Turkey also comes barbecued or in drumstick form.

There are Asian-style beef or chicken rice bowl offerings, half-chickens (roasted or barbecued), barbecued beef ribs and sliced beef items.

All are priced well under $10, some under $5.

Chef's Express also sells ``hand-carved sandwiches'' utilizing the same ostrich, turkey, beef and chicken. And there are pie and cake desserts.

Certainly plenty of things to choose from at this somewhat novel fast-food cafe, but I'm still wondering how that ostrich soup would have tasted.

THE FACTS

The restaurant: Chef's Express.

Where: 11935 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Phone: (818) 769-3333.

When: Open for lunch, dinner and snacks from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Recommended items: Ostrich steak with steamed fresh vegetables, prime rib (trimmed lean).

How much: Starters from $1.50 to $2.75, sandwiches and salads from $4.39 to $5.25, desserts $1.75 each.

Our rating: Two stars for food; Three stars for value.
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Restaurant Review
Date:Jan 29, 1999
Words:539
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