San Francisco — THE open-to-view kitchen dominates the restaurant at Vivande Porta Via on Fillmore Street. All the cooking action can be watched easily from both counter and tables in the narrow slice of space Carlo and Lisa Middione opened in 1981.
The kitchen isn't the only display; long cases are full of cheese and pasta salads, pastries of cheese, artichoke, and mushroom, along with eggplant sandwiches, all specialties of the house.
The eggplant sandwich is traditional Sicilian street food, a good snack, Carlo explains. Other dishes include chickens roasted on the spit, fragrant from a lemon stuffing, or basted with rosemary and garlic, or Pollo Mattone (Whole Chicken Cooked Between Tiles).
Pollo Mattone is a classic Italian recipe for chicken cooked in clay, an ancient method dating back to the Etruscans, who were associated with the area near Siena.
The chicken is split and seasoned with pepper, salt, and often rosemary, and then - sandwiched between two pieces of clay tile - cooked on top of the stove until crisp on the outside and juicy.
There are many pasta dishes on the menu, and Carlo has several thoughts about the recent popularity of it. ''Unlike so many fad foods that may enjoy a short blitz in magazines and newspapers, pasta will last because it has substance and variety,'' he says.
''Because it's economical and has an affinity to many seasonings, it is irresistible to supermarket shoppers as well as the experimental cook.''
Vivande Porta Via is the restaurant of two people who know about good Italian food and who also share a love of music. Lisa, a pianist trained at the Juilliard School, was a fine-arts publicist before the restaurant opened.
The couple has led several cooking tours to France and Italy. Carlo, who has taught cooking for many years, is now Italian chef-instructor at the California Culinary Academy. His students often become part of his staff.
Carlo and Lisa start work at 8:30 a.m., along with the rest of the staff. They exemplify the labor-intensive environment where ''the art is the food. We have a form, a style, but we also improvise,'' Carlo says.
From pesto to pastry shells, everything is made from scratch on the premises. Carlo is very particular about fresh herbs, especially basil. Last year he bought a local farmer's entire crop.
''At various times we purchase fresh arugula, tarragon, baby eggplant and radicchio di Treviso, the popular red chicory,'' he says.
Carlo explains the cooking staff by introducing his chef de cuisine, Joy Graham, and Susan Lynn, the savory chef and saladmaker.
Others double with catering, and these people must have experience in the restaurant before joining the catering crew.
''We try to carry Italian cheese, but shipments are not consistent,'' Carlo says. ''So we fill in with Brie. We also have French and Italian goat cheeses.''
''WE have five deliveries of chickens and mussels each week to keep up with our daily output of two dozen chickens and 40 pounds of mussels. Some chicken is fresh-smoked for our salad. Other constant orders are breast of veal and fresh pork.
''We make our own coarse ground Sicilian pork sausage and bone stuffed breast of veal. We use seasonal vegetables, but if we don't find the quality we like, such as slender asparagus, we change the menu.''
Carlo interrupts his job pulling whiskers from Maine mussels to show the quality of durum flour he uses, which is mixed with semolina for fresh pasta. ''There is always a daily pasta special,'' he says.
Many recipes used in the restaurant can be found in Carlo's first cookbook, ''Pasta! Cooking It Loving It,'' part of ''The Great American Cooking Series'' (Irena Chalmers Inc., New York).
''We limit our daily production of fresh pasta to flat rolled lasagne, fettuccine, linguine, and cannelloni. When it comes to fancy extruded shapes for salads, we go to Italian professionals'' - Carlo waves a box playfully - ''who come out of the cardboard.''
''We package and retail the durum flour which we use, and we are working on the shipping solution to our Tree Oyster Mushrooms Pate, made from walnuts and the cultivated tree-oyster mushroom. When we've solved the perishable problem, we will have it ready for mail order,'' Carlo says.
The lunch crowd arrives and the tempo quickens to presto in the small cafe while Joshua Rippun carefully mixes Genoise sponge for Zuppe Inglese in the glass-walled pastry shop.
Carlo Middione's tips on making pasta salads:
All pasta should be cooked al dente so that it is chewy. If it seems light and ethereal, it hasn't been cooked right.
For pasta salads I prefer to use either fresh-made pasta from the real durum flour and egg, or imported Italian dried pasta, because their structure is strong, their texture is chewy, their flavor is pronounced and delicious, and they hold up better after cooking.
Unfortunately, commercial pastas generally do not maintain these characteristics.
The one and only time to rinse pasta after cooking it is when you're going to use it cold. You do this to stop the cooking process and to wash off any starch that may cause it to stick together.
After you have cooked the pasta al dente, you should quickly drain it and place it into a bowl of very cold water. You could even add some ice cubes if you wanted to. Then, gently ''wash'' the pasta with your hands for 1 or 2 minutes. Then thoroughly drain it in a colander and keep tossing it to make sure that all of the water shakes out.
If it is not going to be used for a salad immediately, but stored for a day or more, the pasta should be very lightly oiled with olive oil or a good vegetable oil. For 1 pound of pasta, 1 tablespoon of oil should be plenty. Stir it all around to make sure it will coat and protect the pasta.
Flavors added to a pasta salad can be sharp or pronounced in taste, as well as colorful in hue or design, to make a nice contrast to the pasta itself. However, you must be careful never to overdress or oversauce the pasta, because it will become gluey and deteriorate and you will hide its flavor.
It's also fun to mix different shapes of pasta together in your salads, as this looks pretty in the dish.
Pasta salads can become quite portable, as you can take them on picnics as a first course, or add some meat or fish as a main course. Eggplant Sanmdwiches (Fetti di Melanzane Ripieni) 1 large eggplant, about 2 pounds 1 cup fine dry bread crumbs 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/3 cup chopped parsley Sliced provolone cheese Sliced mortadella 2 eggs, beaten Olive oil for baking Make even number of eggplant slices a scant 1/2-inch thick. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine bread crumbs, grated cheese, and parsley and set aside in a large, rimmed bowl.
Have enough slices of provolone and mortadella as you will need to make ''sandwiches'' of the sliced eggplant (add more provolone or mortadella as your taste dictates).
Dip the ''sandwiches'' into the beaten egg and then into the bread crumb mixture, pushing well to make them stick.
Place the ''sandwiches'' on a baking sheet. Drizzle over them about 1 teaspoon olive oil; then turn them over and drizzle one more teaspoon of oil on the other side.
Bake in the preheated oven at 375 degrees until done and golden brown. Turn once during cooking, using a spatula. They should take about 40 minutes, but could take longer, so don't worry.
The provolone may melt and flow out onto the baking sheet. This is normal. Scrape it off and eat it when no one is looking!
These eggplant ''sandwiches'' can be eaten hot or at room temperature. They make a nice light lunch or hors d'oeuvres when quartered in bite-size pieces.