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SIMPLE FARE, PRICES MAKE VITTORIO'S A GOOD CHOICE.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

Encino's newest Ventura Boulevard Italian restaurant, Vittorio's, replaces another pizza and pasta place, Michael J's. Consequently, if you're counting, there are still the same number of highly visible Italian food purveyors on the busy Valley thoroughfare.

Michael J's gained a modicum of fame at one time for its stuffed spinach pizza. Vittorio's, a casual cafe that looks almost identical to its predecessor, may well make its name with its cioppino.

Vittorio's, with its undraped coffee shop-style tables and paper napkins, serves up a large, satisfying bowl of garlicky, peppery, clam-juice-infused, tomato broth filled with mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari and chopped clams plus a generous helping of linguine.

This, the house cioppino ($13.95), also happens to be the highest-priced item on the menu, so you know you're not going to lose any sleep over the cost of a meal here.

You won't find anything unfamiliar at this neighborhood eatery, where one afternoon a couple of late lunchers noticed a group of ladies playing cards at a rear table. And one evening, also at a rear table, a man and woman were sitting and eating side by side while they watched television on a mini-set perched in front of them.

If neighborhood Italian cafes are judged by their calamari fritti, Vittorio's does fairly well. You'll receive a reasonably sized portion of more than just squid rings, lightly battered and cooked in fresh enough oil leaving them light-toned rather than brownish. They arrive with a slightly spicy tomato dipping sauce.

But if a local eating place is judged by its adherence to its menu descriptions, Vittorio's better get its act together. ``Funghi repieno'' ($7) which should be spelled ``ripieno'' is described as ``a jumbo mushroom stuffed with seafood, served with lobster sauce.''

But that ``jumbo mushroom,'' confirmed by a waiter at a lunch visit as a portobello, turns out to be several small mushroom caps instead. The seafood stuffed into them is a disappointing ground mixture of lackluster taste.

However, Vittorio's kitchen does a fine job with its chopped antipasto salad ($6.95 or $10.25), a pleasurable tossing of cut-up lettuce, cheese, onions, olives, pepperoncinis, carrots, broccoli, salami, green beans, tomato, mortadella and salami. And you pick your favorite dressing.

Most of the menu attention is given to pastas, 14 of them being listed as house specialties.

I like the penne amatriciana dish ($9.95) here with the smooth, slant- cut noodles mixed with bacon, onion, rosemary and tomato sauce. The result is truly worthwhile.

Chicken breast items are also handled very well by this kitchen. Both marsala and piccata preparations are delivered moist and flavorful with nicely executed vegetables (carrots, zucchini, broccoli) and roasted skin- on potatoes.

Vittorio's probably won't win any awards, but it's going to please patrons most of the time, especially if they're not too demanding.

And for sure if the meaning of the word ``jumbo'' is learned in a hurry.

VITTORIO'S ITALIAN CUCINA

Where: 17644 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

When: Open for lunch, dinner and snacks from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Recommended items: Calamari fritti, chopped antipasto, pennette amatriciana, cioppino, chicken Marsala or piccata.

How much: Starters from $3.25 to $7, entrees and pastas from $7 to $14, desserts $4. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V.

Wine list: Small but serviceable starting list that could use more depth and variety in Italian and Cal-Ital wines. Corkage: $7.

Reservations: Helpful. Call (818) 986-9074.

Our rating: Three stars for food; three stars for service; two stars for wine.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Business partner Victor Ortega, left, and owner Roberto Made of Vittorio's Italian Cucina in Encino await service from chef Alejandro Ascencio.

(2) A house specialty at Vittorio's is its calamari fritti, a platter of breaded, deep-fried calamari.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Restaurant Review
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:654
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