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Have you had it with the celebrity chef mania that’s been gripping our town lately? Do you long for good food in a stylish setting that doesn’t require valet parking and a second mortgage to appreciate? Then head to Summerlin for a taste of Italia—Portobella style. Chef Dan Drayer has brought innovative, up-scale food to a neighborhood that wants and needs it. You won’t find grilled shrimp on perfect foccacia bread at Olive Garden, but you will at Portabella. The same dish cooked by a bohunk chef or the runty bam man from New Orleans would cost twice as much. Gourmet pizzas have been all the rage ever since Wolfgang of the Mojave invaded our desert, but at Portabella, a smoked chicken and caramelized onion number competes with anything Spago throws at you, and it’s served by waiters who actually seem to like the fact that you’re there. Not always the case at the “I’m too sexy for my shirt” staff at the Forum Shops.

Another winning pie is topped by three varieties of roasted mushrooms and has an earthy resonance unfound in any pizza place that delivers. The seafood pasta is chock full of good things that swim—and Drayer’s sea bass in a potato crust shows he speaks a little French as well. It is a classic haute cuisine presentation that Joachim Splichal, now here with his Pinot Brasserie, popularized in Los Angeles. Multiple meals here have convinced me that seafood is the strength of this kitchen, but Portabella’s turns out a mean rosemary roast chicken too. Of all the dishes I’ve sampled, only some of the pastas have failed to impress, but all is forgiven when a trio of crème brulees was forced upon me. You know I hate smooth, dense custard infused with chocolate, banana and macadamia nut. It was a test of my gastronomic strength and stamina but somehow I suffered through it. It’s a tough job, I know, but hey!!! someone’s gotta do it. Toques off to Chef Dan Drayer and Portabella.

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This is John Curtas.

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