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AVOIDING THE FANFARE ARLEQUIN TAKES A SERIOUS AND STEADY APPROACH.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

When the Moonlight supper club in Sherman Oaks, previously known as the Moonlight Tango Cafe, closed in late summer 1999, a touch of glitz left the Valley nightlife scene. For those who are interested in such things, there was a great deal of curiosity as to the facility's future.

The Moonlight, with and without the Tango name, had been a place of fun. Some fairly big-name entertainment (both Frank Sinatra Jr. and Steve Allen and their bands) had played there, and better food than what usually comes out of a supper club's kitchen had been served.

It took almost a year and a half before the shuttered spot reopened.

Now it is called Arlequin, taking its name and theme from commedia dell'arte of the 16th through 18th centuries, those troupes of masked clownlike entertainers that were extremely popular in both Italy and France.

The Arlequin, which just opened, is going about its future slowly. No fancy grand opening yet. And though masks are utilized for the decor, no masked performers or harlequins of any sort have yet been noticed.

The kitchen is obviously getting its feet wet without worry or hurry.

A recent dinner visit found the built-in, wood-burning pizza oven not ready to produce anything. And some menu items were evidently still in the experimental, unavailable stages.

As for the physical side, the new look is clean and fresh with the dining room sporting blond wood and white tablecloths, appearing much more like a modern restaurant than its previous incarnations as a yesteryear supper club.

Its expanded, open view kitchen makes a number of fairly safe, bistro or cafe-style items, none of which is truly remarkable.

On the other hand, nothing brought out to date seems offensive or badly cooked.

The weakest dish on that first night was something the waiter touted with much enthusiasm, a special ceviche dish ($4.90) as a starter.

If you like your ceviche mild and bland, you'd like this version.

It so happens that I don't.

Better starter attempts were a dish of tuna tartare ($6.95) and a bistro-style brie fondue ($7.50), though merely passable was the du jour onion soup ($4.25).

There are the standard entree menu items here: the steaks, a fair New York with a red wine sauce ($15.95) and a quite good and thick filet mignon ($23.95); the salmon, carefully grilled Norwegian with herbs on decent mashed potatoes ($13.95); the rack of lamb, nicely moist with pink chops and couscous ($21.95); and the chicken, sliced chicken breast with mushrooms and a white creamy sauce ($12.95).

At an ensuing lunchtime visit the wood-burning oven was working and a quattro formaggi (parmesan, romano, gorgonzola and mozzarella) pizza ($8.95, dinner $10.25), came forth proudly, thin-crusted and favorably rated.

Hachis parmentier, the French version of Britain's shepherd's pie, which is basically ground meat or meats (often leftovers if made at home), seasoned and covered with mashed potatoes before baking, was one of those unavailable dishes at the first visit.

This time it was served hot and hearty ($6.95, dinner price $8.95), perhaps could have been flavored a bit more aggressively, but all in all a pretty satisfying rendition.

As for Arlequin's pasta-making, spaghetti Bolognese ($6.95, dinner price $9.50) is a fine example because the sauce tells the difference.

Here, the kitchen effectively uses carrot with a flavorful ground beef, garlic and tomato mixture, and the bowl portion is surprisingly generous.

Desserts are the expected chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, apple tart and creme brulee (what, no tiramisu?). And wines are a minimal starter list with a few mistakes.

The neighborhood competition is tough (Paul's Cafe, Mistral and Le Petit Bistro come to mind) for this style of food, so it behooves Arlequin to get a tad more creative.

Hopefully, such will occur.

Meantime, bring on the clowns.

ARLEQUIN

Where: 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

When: Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, for brunch 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, for afternoon dancing and snacks from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, to midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday.

Recommended items: Pizzas, spaghetti Bolognese, salmon, steaks, rack of lamb.

How much: Full bar. All major credit cards.

Wine list: Beginning list of 28 labels, most with vintage dates, is priced from $16 to $130 with six under $20. Louis Latour chardonnay ($18) is incorrectly listed as a domestic white, and both Parducci sauvignon blanc '96 ($21) and Phelps chardonnay '97 ($22) are mistakenly dubbed imported whites. Wines by the glass from $5.25 to $6.50. Corkage: $15.

Reservations: Helpful. Call (818) 788-2000.

Our rating: Three stars for food; two and one half stars for service; two stars for wine.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2) At left, under a manager's watchful eye, chef Angel Alvarado puts the final touches on a dish at Arlequin. Above, bow-tie pasta with a sauce of marinated artichoke hearts, black olives and Parmesan.

John Kennedy/Special to the Daily News
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Restaurant Review
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Words:868
Previous Article:SOUND CHECK.
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