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Friday, September 02, 2005 | North Park is quite the happening place, especially around University and 30th where on a warm Thursday evening people sat at sidewalk tables or inside the lively Apertivo. Simple in concept, the restaurant’s calling card is Italian tapas (small plates) and wine bar. The noisy room bothered my pals more than me but the value-packed, home-cooked style food and good service won them over.

Two salads, an arugula with gorgonzola, pecans and sweet onions and a caprese with mozzarella, tomato and basil, are uncomplicated and seasonally fresh. We thought the gorgonzola tasted and looked like feta and lacked any semblance to a cheese usually marked with blue veins. A lovely linguini with gorgonzola cream and pecans arrived and again we wondered, where’s the blue? We discussed this with Ken, who also works the dining room. He brought us a couple of tastes of the domestic gorgonzola he uses to keep his food costs in check, but only after a third sample did the veining faintly show up. I would suggest that the gorgonzola be scrapped for a good domestic blue cheese – a little of which goes a long way with flavor.

A chicken piccata with white wine, lemon and capers is just that with the chicken in small pieces so everyone can taste. Penne with a nicely balanced fresh pesto of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese hits the spot while sweet, oven-roasted baby carrots make easy finger food as do the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp. The meatball is light in flavor because of the turkey and could use a step up with seasoning. We finished off with a not too sweet and very light lemon mousse cheesecake. Happily, food is not over salted and pepper grinders are on the table to accommodate an individual’s taste. Apertivo, 3926 30th St. at University Ave., North Park, (619) 297-7799, open from 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, www.apertivo.com

Pet Peeves: There is nothing more irritating than mediocre (or good) food that arrives lukewarm. Whether it is the kitchen or the servers, it’s an issue that needs attention because it does not serve the restaurant (or the customers) well. Many patrons won’t say anything, and they may not return for another try. Others do speak up, but why should they have to in the first place? And if a dish is redone it leaves the others eating while another waits.

Three places I frequent had problems this week:

I met for late drinks at The Vine, a good neighborhood wine bar with food in Ocean Beach. We ordered the filling crab cakes and the grilled shrimp cocktail with the unusual mango-tomatillo sauce. The spicy cakes arrived lukewarm and were sent back. The order was redone and came out hot. Laurel Restaurant & Bar, with its offbeat décor and menu that includes everything from soybeans instead of bread to fried sweetbread balls and chicken breast stuffed with arugula, gouda and onion, fell into the mediocre food and lukewarm category. Three of us shared a small plate of gnocchi and lamb ragout had ground lamb instead of long braised stew meat that is pulled into pieces to add texture and a richness for the sauce. The plate was hot; the food lukewarm. The best dish was a fresh creamed corn gratin with chanterelles, Parmesan and a delicate infusion of truffle oil that accompanied the unmemorable stuffed chicken breast. Finally, one of my favorites, Café Chloe, produced slow food service from the kitchen and a lukewarm omelette. At the end of the meal, we mentioned the omelette to our server, who graciously said the dish could have been redone. Both issues are unforgivable when there were only two of us in the restaurant one midmorning.

Tidbits: Jack’s Grille and Jack’s Wine Bar opened this week at the corner of Wall St. and Girard in La Jolla, (858) 456-8111. Open Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Sheila Tracy, ex-bar manager of the original Laurel Restaurant & Bar, is now Director of Outlets at the upscale Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, 9700 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, (858) 550-1000, www.estancialajolla.com

Marcie Rothman loves good food – no matter where it’s cooked – at home, a hole in the wall or a white tablecloth restaurant. Known as The $5 Chef on radio, television and in her two cookbooks, Marcie travels far and near with an eye on what’s current in food. You can find her at

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