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First Bites 

Tastes from some of the city’s newest restaurants

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

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Afghan House
8516 Reseda Blvd., Northridge
(818) 709-6233

Since Afghan cuisine, a commingling of Persian, Indian and Pakistani tastes, is such a rarity here, this modest restaurant is definitely worth a visit to Northridge. Prices are unbelievably low, and whoever’s in the kitchen turns out home cooking tasty enough to suit a caliph, if he came for dinner. The unpretentious room, a kind of museum hung with tapestries, old Afghan rugs, traditional costumes and artifacts for sale, is a perfect setting for mantu, the house specialty. It’s a platter of stopwatch-size pillows of thin, silky pasta stuffed with beef and leeks under layerings of three sauces that harmonize with the precision of a symphony. One sauce, of spice-infused ground meat, is topped with a sparse layer of stewed yellow peas. These savory mellow notes hit perfect pitch with the sharp zing of yogurt sauce that’s drizzled over all. Other great items: aushak, tortellini-size scallion dumplings blanketed under the above-mentioned trio of sauces; bulanee katchaliu, thin potato-and-leek-filled appetizer pastry with a side of spicy green chutney ($1.99); Qabuli palaw, a cardamom-spiced pilaf strewn with candied carrot shreds and almonds over two hunks of lamb shank ($7.99). An assortment of kebabs, including a chicken murgh kebab and several vegetarian stews, are good too, but mantu is the high note. Open for lunch and dinner seven days. Entrées, $6.99 to $9.99. (LB)

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EMMANUEL, AN AMERICAN BISTRO
11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
(818) 766-3128

This new American bistro is yet another version of what has become a distinctly San Fernando Valley style of restaurant — another midprice Cal-French (or, if you insist, American) establishment that started with Café Bisou and caught on with Café Paul, Asiatique and Joe Joe’s. Indeed, it is a former chef from Joe Joe’s who has taken over the former Perroche space, and created a familiar but interesting bill of fare that includes two tempting prix fixe menus ($30 and $38, both four courses) and a good variety of à la carte salads, appetizers and entrées. Emmanuel so far has been erratic — one night sublime, another night abysmal. Hopefully things will even out on the sublime side. The service is surprisingly smooth for a young restaurant. Some meat entrées, especially, are distinctive and well-executed, including a rib-eye steak served with potatoes scalloped with fourme d’Ambert cheese, and a classic plate of rare roast beef (top sirloins, cooked to order) with mashed potatoes and surprising, inspired crisps of fried artichoke. Desserts — and the general décor — still need a bit of work. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday. Entrées, $15 to $19. (MH)

THE HOUSE RESTAURANT
5750 Melrose Ave.
(323) 462-4687

Chef Scooter Kanfer has been everywhere, it seems, starting at Spago, Granita and Chinois, and then, in the last decade, lending her good name and expertise to any number of fledgling restaurants, including Shutters, Vida, the Hollywood Hills Café and Nic’s in Beverly Hills. Now she’s settled into The House, and it’s a boon to know where to find her. The House, on the south side of Melrose, between Larchmont and Vine, formerly housed a neighborhood Italian joint. But Kanfer and her partners, Dana Caskey and Rich Occhiuto, have completely spiffed it up, made it that ever-so-desirable mix of elegant and casual, with tablecloths, gleaming wine glasses and a functioning fireplace. First meals have been stunningly good: a grilled-endive salad, and a country pâté plate titled “a little picnic,” described as “my pop’s pâté,” with olives, caper berries and country bread — it’s nice to see Kanfer’s bright whimsy is still in play. Entrées are high-Americana: roast lamb on a white-bean purée; a big juicy pork rib chop stuffed with rye bread and served with fresh sweet potatoes and sautéed apples. Kanfer is a seriously good â and funny pastry chef. At first we thought the offerings small, but with the intensity of her baked chocolates (a demitasse soufflelike cake/custard) and the variety on her cookie plate, the delight obtained was more than sufficient. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday has a prix fixe menu for $30. Entrées, $16 to $28. (MH)

SURYA INDIA
8048 W. Third St.
(323) 653-5151

The bold, designerly photo art and walls of vivid saturated color are in step with the chichi-ization of Surya’s Third Street address. And the Indian food — northern cooking tailored to suit contemporary L.A. tastes — has citified price tags to match (complete dinners, $12.95 to $18.95). The biryanis and veggie dishes, while staying pretty close to tradition, are supplemented with a few contemporary innovations that are usually offered as specials. One night’s was catfish pakoras (fritters) — tasty soft fish chunks inside a barely crunchy garbanzo-flour coating. Kudos for the tandoori sea bass. Not only was the lemony marinade seductive; the fish, brought still cooking on a sizzling iron plate, arrived miraculously à point and juicy. Double-cut lamb chops, lean and coated with a rough, spice-laden paste, were suffused with flavor. Ground turkey, fashioned into a kebab, hauntingly flavored with turmeric and whole cumin seeds, had a peppery zing. Impressively, the dals use a variety of legumes that remain firm as opposed to the mushy lentils often found elsewhere. But not all here is perfection. Peas on the pillau — forgotten; naan arrives late in the meal; supermarket-grade ice cream and sorbet pose for dessert. Open for lunch Monday through Friday; dinner seven nights. Entrées, $7.95 to $15.95. (LB)

TEMPLE
14 N. La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills
(310) 360-9460

With the same vision that propelled their hip clothing lines, designers Jun and Soyon Kim have converted a campy Googie-style coffee shop into a burnished platinum-blue jewel box of a restaurant with an international feel. And just as the Kims have transformed the space, the kitchen is transforming traditional Korean dishes. This daring new experiment is not an attempt at fusion, the Kims say, but rather the natural progression of an almost hermetic cuisine that has finally started to absorb more global influences. With this in mind, it seems only natural that the crab cakes, flecked with a few bits of kimchee, might rest on a film of mango coulis. With sparks of heat and sweet amplifying the crabmeat’s briny taste, this item alone justifies the Kims’ efforts. Some of the dishes evolved from this brother-and-sister team’s upbringing in Brazil: The caipirinha Brazilian cocktail is made with Korean vodka. Bacalhau, that remnant of Portuguese dominance, is done with braised fennel and root vegetables. Other dishes clearly display Korean culinary origin: braised oxtail in a peppery reduction, and soybean stew with tofu and shiitake, come close to their counterparts in Koreatown. And, as in the Korean tradition, most appetizers, especially the seafood pancake (a take on haemul pajeon), are ample for sharing. Also in keeping with the old ways, you’re served a tray of little side dishes to accompany the meal. Lunch Monday through Friday; dinner nightly. Entrées, $10 to $26. (LB)

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