First look at Curtis Stone's Maude restaurant in Beverly Hills

Curtis Stone was preparing crudo of Maine lobster on a recent afternoon in the kitchen of his nearly-ready-to-open Beverly Hills restaurant Maude, incongruously tucked between Cabbage Patch and Chin Chin on Beverly Drive.

If you were watching as he worked, Stone would probably look familiar -- he's the Australian chef who has appeared in television shows including "Top Chef Masters," "America's Next Great Restaurant" and "Around the World in 80 Plates."

"People are going to say, 'Isn't that the guy from the TV? Can he actually cook?'" Stone said.

They'll find out when Maude, named after Stone's grandmother, officially opens on Feb. 1. The small (1,500 square feet), 25-seat restaurant designed by L.A.-based Bishop Pass will feature Stone's degustation menus. Each month a new nine-course menu will focus on a single in-season ingredient -- citrus in February and artichokes in March, for example. The tasting menu will cost about $75, depending on ingredients.

Since moving to Los Angeles eight years ago, Stone has fashioned himself as a TV personality, recipe developer (for his own cookbooks and commercial businesses) and culinary entrepreneur (his own line of cookware). His last restaurant project was a partnership with Terence Conran to help open Bluebird in London. 

Before the television shows, there were restaurants in Melbourne and in London, where Stone worked with famous and infamous chef Marco Pierre White, eventually as head chef of White's Quo Vadis. Now, Maude marks his return to the restaurant kitchen.

"I've always wanted to do just a tiny little restaurant, from a kitchen where you can feel the chef's drive," he said. And when the Beverly Drive space, formerly Pici Enoteca, came to his attention, he went for it.

"I've sat in those meetings with investors who talk about the concept [of a restaurant] like it's a paint color. That's not what I wanted."

Stone said he decided to offer only tasting menus at Maude for a dining experience that "takes out choice and complication. It's a little like cooking in your own home." Dishes (served on vintage plates -- some from his grandmother) that he's working on for the inaugural menu include the lobster crudo with crimson turnip cream, watermelon radish, fennel and compressed celery; fried mussels with blood orange aioli; carrot and orange soup with parsley puree and serrano ham chip; a play on a chef's salad with nasturtiums, buttermilk dressing and clementine reduction; and duck ravioli with duck mousse and chard filling, smoked goose fat and a grating of dehydrated salted duck egg yolk.

Ben Aviram, who worked in Chicago at Elizabeth restaurant and Alinea, is the general manager and wine director. The wine list includes beer, cider, sake and wine, with about 125 selections from all over the world. "We just chose what we think is delicious," Aviram said.

"Right," Stone agreed. "That's our rule. Delicious comes first."

212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, www.mauderestaurant.com.

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