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A taste of Italy East Coast style

August 22, 2002

DINING OUT

Stepping into Vittorio's Italian Restaurant, at the corner of

Springdale Street and Warner Avenue, is like being in a family

restaurant on the East Coast. The dining room is aglow with crystal

chandeliers, red vinyl booths and etched glass panels that divide it

from the small bar and cocktail area where, in the early days, ladies

were not allowed.

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Vittorio's, opened in 1969 by Vittorio Cafasso, changed ownership

seven years ago and is now operated by Chef/owner Mourad Hairanian

who comes in around 11 a.m. to prepare his homemade sauces, soups and

sausages for the 5 p.m. opening where he is ready to great customers

at the door.

All dinners are served garlic bread and soup, but soup is usually

a good test of the kitchen so I chose the tortellini, "little twists"

in a chicken consomme with three chewy cheese-filled pastas with bits

of tomato and scallion scattered on top. The other soup my friend had

is a beef stock thick with lots of vegetables and pasta. Both were

very good.

The menu is a delicious and tempting map of Italian specialties

from Milan to Bologna as in the lasagna a la Bolognese ($10.95), the

three pasta sheets are layered with quality meat and lots of

mozzarella and ricotto cheese smothered in the best thick

lumpy-with-tomato-pieces-sauce -- more mild than tart. Our server,

Heather, a local girl who attended St. Bonaventure and Ocean View

High, came by to grate imported pecorino cheese over the robust dish,

which was really hot -- another mark of a good restaurant.

Servings are generous at Vittorio's and my selection of beef and

veal filled ravioli ($12.95) covered the plate in a rich meat and

herb sauce. The balance of meat and tomato kept the sauce from being

runny as can happen when an Italian sauce is hurried.

Hairanian prowls the dining area stopping to chat with local

families that fill the booths by 6 p.m. or to smooth the crumbs off

the table with a tiny scraper into a small tray. Now where have you

seen that nice custom? Usually in truly Italian cafes where the owner

likes to meet his diners.

Desserts, from a vender, are the frozen cake and a pie variety,

and the spumoni ($3.50) we shared is excellent -- two layers of ice

cream, vanilla and chocolate, flavored with rum and filled with nuts

and candied fruit, iced with whipped cream and on a thick sweet

crust.

Owner and chef Hairanian, originally from New York, calls

Vittorio's an "East Coast Style" Italian restaurant and his

restaurant reflects the kind of family place you'd find in the small

neighborhoods of a big city. He was executive chef for various

Marriott hotels for 15 years. At Vittorio's he has plans for

enhancing the menu to include, in addition to the halibut, salmon and

blackened swordfish, more seafood from Mexico and the Gulf.

Vittorio's Italian Restaurant is a neighborhood cafe with extra

sparkle and lots of friendliness.

* MARY FURR is the Independent restaurant critic. If you have

comments or suggestions, call (562) 493-5062 or e-mail

hbindy@latimes.com.

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