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GREAT PERFORMANCE AT IL TEATRO : ITALIAN EATERY PRODUCES BRAVURA FARE.

Byline: Larry Lipson Daily News Restaurant Critic

Immediately, you get good feelings at the new Il Teatro Ristorante in Tarzana when you nibble one of the house-baked breadsticks.

They sprout from a jar on your table like a bunch of crusty wands that have been hit by lightning.

None is the same size in length, thickness or shape as another. That's their charm.

It's almost a bonus that they taste marvelous - slightly floury, crisp as can be, with a hint of garlic.

There's more.

A bowl of chopped, well-ripened, sweet tomatoes flavored with basil, coated with olive oil arrives with a basket of crunchy, fresh, house-baked bread.

Before you know it, you've ordered a glass or bottle of wine and you're enjoying yourself in a brand-new cream-and-green-themed dining room that sparkles with shining crystal and gleaming cutlery on snowy white linen.

And you have yet to decide what you want to eat from the menu or the specials recited.

On a thoroughfare that seems to have Italian restaurants every few yards, Il Teatro jumps into the competition with verve and contagious enthusiasm.

Its youthful partners, maitre d' Anthony Fasulo and chef Nicola Rossetto, don't appear fazed by the fact that there's another Italian restaurant right across the street and others up and down the boulevard.

``We are different,'' declares Fasulo, pointing out that his Venetian chef-compadre Rossetto prepares ahi tuna seared rare with a pink peppercorn crust and sauced with a spicy soy, wasabi and ginger mixture ($9).

But even more interesting, the chef usually offers several fresh fish specials for seafood-starved boulevardiers utilizing ono, onaga or other Hawaiian denizens.

If you're lucky, he might have fresh, large sardines ($7) that he'll cook Venetian-style, sauteed with sweet onions and/or butterflied and pan-fried with a little breading.

But you can be sure that he'll always have the freshest of baby calamari ($7), sometimes called calamaretti, delivered steaming hot and swimming in a fresh, sweet, chunky, tomato-basil-garlic sauce - a generous bowl of soupy, Sicilian-style satisfaction.

If his zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) sounds like old-hat minestrone, what comes to the table isn't. It's a fresh thyme-flavored bowl of superbly cooked vegetable soup.

And if everybody else does Caesar salad, Il Teatro takes the step up, and prepares it ($12 for two) from scratch tableside with all the old-fashioned pomp and circumstance of mashing garlic and cutting and mashing anchovies, whipping them with Dijon, olive oil, coddled egg, everything. And you can't help loving the result, even if it tends to be slightly too mustardy.

Pick a pasta and you'll probably get that same feeling of surprise. The kitchen sends out al dente pennette tossed with that same fresh tomato sauce infused with herbal flavors and sporting pieces of marinated eggplant, mini meatballs and good white mozzarella. This is called the dello chef dish ($11), and it's excellent.

Freshly made tagliolini from the pasta machine in the kitchen combines with zucchini, rock shrimp, tomato and fresh herbs for another Rossetto triumph ($12). And he's not stingy with his shrimp.

To some, the chef's rendition of veal liver Veneziana ($14) may be a disappointment. Peppone in Brentwood Village still does it the best.

Here, the promised carmelized onions are not as rich, brown and sweet as expected. And parts of the liver arrive hardly cooked.

But true, the dish seems lighter. Perhaps that's the way it's intended here.

Speaking of lightness, salmon fanciers will love the way Rossetto traps the juices and flavors of Norway's finest in his cartoccio ($16) of parchment paper. Here, the salmon with julienned vegetables, lemon and herbs is gently transferred in all its glory, unwrapped and tantalizing, onto a large plate by the waiter at tableside.

End a meal with house-baked, intensely flavored, flourless chocolate cake in creme Anglaise or a fruit sorbetto (one day it was kiwi) presented in a crusty thin pastry shell.

Oh yes, Il Teatro has tiramisu, too.

The facts The restaurant: Il Teatro Ristorante.

Where: 19563 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana.

When: Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, for dinner from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. nightly, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Recommended items: Calamari Siciliano, thyme-flavored minestrone, tableside-tossed Caesar salad, pennette dello chef, tagliolini with zucchini and rock shrimp, salmone al cartoccio, sorbetti, flourless chocolate cake.

How much: Starters from $5 to $9, pastas and entrees from $9 to $16, desserts $5 each. Beer and wine. AE, MC, DC, V.

Wine list: Respectable single-page starting list of 35 labels with seven whites and seven reds under $20. Good buys are the Rocking Horse, Howell Mountain '93 zinfandel ($16) and the Glass Mountain '94 cabernet sauvignon ($18).

Reservations: Helpful. Call (818) 996-8008.

Our rating: Three and 1/2 stars for food; three stars for service; two and 1/2 stars for wine.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Co-owners Anthony Fasulo, seated, and chef Nicola Ro ssetto stage one of their typically theatrical performances at Il Teatro Ristorante, on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana.

Phil McCarten/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
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Copyright 1996, 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:Jun 21, 1996
Words:844
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