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Far Niente far from nothing

June 11, 2005

One translation of "far niente" is "doing nothing." But that's far

from the case at this upscale Glendale establishment, which has been

serving dishes from the Cinque Terre region of Italy for nearly two

decades.

From the bountiful floral display in the entryway to the old-world

tin ceiling, coffered walls and black leather banquettes in the

dining room, Far Niente Ristorante beckons with comfortable elegance.

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The white table linen and heavy cutlery are an indication of the fine

dining to come.

A balloon of puffed bread appeared immediately, irresistible with

its drizzle of olive oil and flecks of herbs. The crust crackled as

if fried, but unless I miss my guess, it was a wood-fired oven that

worked its magic on this crisp dough.

As soon as one "bomba" was devoured, another was delivered to the

table. We had to beg the waiter to stop, as we wanted to enjoy our

meal, not just our ethereal bread. Our server was sympathetic to our

request, and was responsive in other respects as well. He

knowledgeably described a lengthy list of specials (neither speeding

through them nor sounding bored), and was able to answer questions

about the preparation of dishes.

He thoughtfully arranged for the host to take our order as we were

ready at the same time as a large party, and would otherwise have had

a long wait. Without asking, our shared first course was split for us

in the kitchen, avoiding awkward "dishing up" at the table. It is

worth noting that the menu indicates that there will be a "splitting

charge" for main courses.

The entrees we sampled were ample for two, so the sharing fee is

well worth it, as you can neatly sample several dishes, or order one

for two diners. That first course, Insalata Far Niente ($13) was a

promising beginning. Framed by vivid purple radicchio leaves, the

salad is composed of crisp-tender green beans, thick slices of

peak-of summer tomatoes, black olives and some large, tender shrimp.

A light, tangy Chardonnay dressing was the perfect complement to this

seasonal salad.

One of the nightly specials, blue-nosed bass in Champagne-mustard

sauce, was a bit disappointing. A generous portion, but the fish was

both overcooked and under-sauced. The dish was disconcertingly

accompanied by a bland dome of mashed potatoes and braised red

cabbage. Very unseasonal, especially after the glorious tomatoes and

green beans in the salad.

The Capelli d'Angelo ai Fruitti de Mare (angel hair pasta with

fruits of the sea -- $21) was a gargantuan portion of pasta in a

light tomato sauce, generously studded with a plethora of seafood.

Shrimp, calamari rings, clams and black mussels in their shells, bay

scallops and more dot the strands of very thin pasta.

Angel hair pasta is tricky to do right, as it cooks to mush very

quickly. This was excellently prepared, tender but resilient at the

center. I cannot imagine how one person could finish this much food,

even if great restraint was exercised with the bread. We failed to

manage dessert. Mea culpa -- on our next visit, we will do better!

Kudos: Very comfortable ambience, excellent service from a

welcoming staff add to the generally well-executed fare. Banquet

facilities available.

Quibbles: The wine glassware is clunky, compared to the other

tableware. A good glass makes a big difference.

* CHERIE MERCER TWOHY teaches cooking in La Canada Flintridge. She

can be reached at www.chezcherie.com.

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