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SAFIRE BOOSTS THE 'BURBS.

Byline: LARRY LIPSON

>RESTAURANT CRITC

The early-bird dinner is thriving in Camarillo at Safire, An American Bistro, manned by a Spago alumnus in the kitchen.

The fairly new restaurant has an attractive, spacious, modern look with an expansive appeal to this outer 'burbs community.

Not only does it offer a 5-to-6 p.m.-nightly three-course meal for $23, it also presents a trio of Alaskan king crab dinner specials every Sunday night, has a happy hour (drinks and appetizers in the $4 to $7 range) from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, bakes wood-fired pizzas and features a jazz pianist near the entrance Wednesday through Saturday evenings.

It's well-conceived dinner menu offers, in addition to the pizzas, a dozen and a half starter items, ranging from yellowtail sashimi or filet mignon carpaccio ($13 each) to an interesting pork empanada (also $13) with Oaxacan cheese.

Diners will also discover that the full-view kitchen sends out a steaming crock of hearty French onion soup ($8) and a quintet of salads that includes a whole Romaine leaf Caesar ($8), thankfully with a definitive hint of anchovy.

Safire's chef and co-owner Michael Muirhead, who was sous chef under Lee Hefter at the Beverly Hills Spago for three years, shows his talented hand in plate presentation, ingredient selection and general cooking expertise.

From the whimsical -- fried Spanish green olives, $8 -- to the ubiquitous -- crispy fried calamari, $10 -- Muirhead pleases his growing clientele with plates that could easily grace the tables of the spiffiest Westside dineries.

And he kicks up the ordinary. For example, he flavors his crunchy squid with sesame and melts tasty gruyere cheese in his onion soup.

Although he dramatizes his list of fish recipes with a whole, wood-fired Tuscan branzino (seabass, $28), Muirhead's best seafood dish may be his melt-in-the-mouth miso-broiled black cod ($26), a larger version of a similar dish found in many sushi bars. This well-rounded, gratifying entree brings forth properly executed steamed rice, caramelized white corn and wild mushroom ragout accompaniments.

On the meat side, our vote goes to chef Muirhead's richly flavored short ribs ($27), steeped in Burgundy wine and plated with chanterelles, pearl onions and mascarpone-

boosted polenta.

The latter happens to be a prime ingredient in the lone vegetarian main course ($16), also the least expensive one.

Just a few dollars higher, a dish of linguini and black mussels ($19) in a garlicky, faintly spicy arrabbiata sauce sweetened slightly with raisins, points out that the Safire kitchen impresses just as much with its lower-priced offerings.

As for endings, there are eight at $8 each with, reportedly, the lemon curd and pine nut tart and a chocolate pot de creme cake being the winners.

At its best: Safire's generally classy food and handsome design, coupled with proven, popular policies, indicate an upscale trend in the 'burbs.

Could be better: A ribeye steak ($33), ordered rare one night (quickly replaced by short ribs but left on the bill until the error was pointed out), came up overcooked and fatty. Also, when reservations were made, the Safire employee who answered the phone said the restaurant didn't charge a corkage fee. Wrong. It does. It did.

SAFIRE AN AMERICAN BISTRO - Three and one half stars

>Details: 4850 Verdugo Way at Santa Rosa Road, Camarillo. Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. nightly, to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (805) 389-1227. www.safirebistro.com Cost: Starters from $5 to $14, entrees from $16 to $40, desserts: $8 each. Corkage: $15.

>Noteworthy: Shellfish fanciers can build their own iced platter here for $2 per piece of Alaskan king crab, Littleneck clams, Bluepoint oysters and shrimp. This sort of arrangement is also available at a cheaper average rate during happy hour (oysters $1, clams 75 cents, mussels 50 cents, shrimp $1.50, crab $3).

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photo

Photo:

Zeferino Ortega Escamilla works the wood-fired pizza oven at Safire an American bistro in Camarillo.

MICHAEL OWEN BAKER>LA.COM
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Restaurant review
Date:Oct 26, 2007
Words:670
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