Michel Richard's L.A. 'return' -- the straight scoop

Angelenos who fondly remember the days when Michel Richard was in the kitchen at Citrus restaurant on Melrose Avenue probably felt their hearts beat a little faster when they read in the blogs that the big man was returning to the area to be chef at a restaurant at Social Hollywood.

Well, they can calm down a little. Richard will design the menu and train the chefs for Citrus at Social, which will be part of Jeffrey Chodorow's entertainment complex in the old Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard near Cahuenga Boulevard. And Richard says that after the restaurant opens in January, either he or one of his chefs will stop in once a month to make sure everything is running up to speed.

But he is definitely not leaving Washington, D.C., where his Citronelle restaurant is a cornerstone of the fine dining scene and where his new, casual Central is packing in crowds.

The position at Social Hollywood is similar to the one Richard will have at Citronelle at Carmel Valley Ranch in the Monterey area, also to open in January, and to the one at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas that he is negotiating for 2009.

"My title? Chef. Well, consulting chef," he says. "The food will be 100% mine, even though I won't be there all the time."

In other words, it's another of those modern chef gigs, not that different from those enjoyed by Tom Colicchio, Laurent Tourondel, Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud, among many others, at their outposts away from their home cities.

Ironically, Richard was in the forefront of that movement more than 15 years ago when he opened satellite restaurants of Citrus in Santa Barbara, Baltimore, San Francisco and Philadelphia as well as the one in Washington, D.C., which eventually became his home base when he left Los Angeles in 1998. The others have closed.

The details of the menu at Social Hollywood are yet to be worked out, but he says the food will be "casual postmodern," which he translates as a restaurant "where the food is fun, somewhere between Citronelle and Central, and where 25-year-olds can come for dinner and not have to have a second mortgage on the house."

One possible dish he mentioned as an example is the lobster burger so popular at the Citronelle bar in D.C. -- chopped, cooked tail and knuckle meat bound with lobster mousse and served on a brioche bun.

Asked why he's taking on so many outside projects when Citronelle and Central are going so well, Richard laughed. "I need the money. I've got six kids and college costs $60,000 a year before taxes."

Besides, he said, he's always loved California and someday he and his wife, Laurence, who was raised here, might like to come back to live here. Just not right now.

Small bites

* The 16-year-old downtown (Arts District) Japanese restaurant R23 has expanded from its single, brick-walled room under new owners Marissa Kim and Ellie Chang, who took over in the summer. They've turned the gallery space next door into a dining room and added two private dining rooms and a sake bar.

The tiny, railroad track-adjacent restaurant in a converted warehouse has a new wine list too, but the opening chefs (executive chef Tobi-san and sushi chef Toshi-san) remain, as do those Frank Gehry cardboard chairs.

R23, 923 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-7178, www.r23.com.

* After helming Matteo's for about a year, chef Don Dickman has left the restaurant. The former Rocca chef leaves behind not only Matteo's, but also his long-time sous chef, Armando Parada, who is now executive chef. The restaurant also inherits his new and improved recipe for Chicken Beckerman, the fabled dish that Dickman took off the menu when he first arrived, but later reworked. Dickman, who says his time there "just ran its course," is currently consulting, considering a move to Napa ("I'm a wine collector") and enjoying "not making pasta for a couple of days." Meanwhile, Matteo's Tuesday porchetta (roast pig) nights, and Sunday prime-rib nights, which Dickman instituted, will continue.

Matteo's Italian Restaurant, 2321 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 475-4521, matteosla.com.

* Come spring in Burbank, you'll see Gingergrass sprouting on Magnolia Boulevard. Silver Lake's lively Vietnamese cafe will open a somewhat smaller branch down the street from Porto's Bakery, between Hollywood Way and Buena Vista Street. Owner John Himelstein says the new spot will feature a slightly trimmed version of chef-partner Mako Trinidad Scott's menu, and the emphasis will be on takeout (studio workers take note).

Construction begins in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the new Gingergrass catering kitchen opens this week, just a few doors down from the cafe (party planners take note).

Gingergrass, 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-1600; www.gingergrass.com.

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