Los Angeles is the venue for this dry, smart first novel--and Gidding's satiric feel for the eccentrically populated landscape is almost diverting enough to distract you from the lack of substance. . . almost, but not quite. The fine narrator here is young freelance restaurant-critic Peter Lorditch (who can describe the uxorious phoniness of Marina del Rey or a wealthy L.A. synagogue with wit and urbanity); and Peter's relatives give the novel its flimsy whys and wherefores. His 81-year-old grandmother (a sly, faintly affected, but nice old girl) meets and marries a dapper, altogether soothing Italian architect-widower living in California, Mr. diBarnaba. Very nice--but there's sure to be complications with Grandma's son: Peter's Uncle Tiger (ever true to Princeton), who's unmarried and fiftyish, alcoholic, eager, and trying-to-be-with-it. . . and a business entrepreneur of sterling unsuccess. With Mr. diBarnaba as titulary partner, Uncle Tiger dreams up the CaffÃ‰ Ice Cream (prosciutto-and-melon flavor gelati) and it really pulls in the goldchain-and-Mercedes-crowd; but the cafÃ‰ turns out to have truly unsavory money behind it. That's the story--and it does, with the restaurant setting, give Gidding a chance to do what he does best: comic scenes of public eating, with a sharp eye for human error and pretense and social discomfort. But charming observation, no matter how talented, isn't enough to sustain a novel; and Gidding never puts much filling inside his dandy crust, never really takes a bite. Don't expect a great piece of fiction, then. Enjoy this likable book, instead, for what it is--a very promising writer trying out his wings. . . in a garage: not much place to go as he sweeps and drops and sails with accomplishment.