TRAVEL
Your California Bucket List: Fine dining in Yosemite, the world's safest beach and artsy Idyllwild

Restaurateur Stephane Bombet looks for success in the details

Stephane Bombet is obsessed with details, whether it's napkin rings at Terrine or the shoes he wears

Stephane Bombet is the restaurateur behind some of L.A.'s busiest eateries, such as small-plates haven Faith & Flower downtown and the new foie-gras-heavy California brasserie Terrine on Beverly Boulevard.

The French transplant has had a string of successes over the last several years, including Paiche, Mo-Chica and Picca with star chef Ricardo Zarate; they parted company in 2013.

He curates almost every aspect of the dining experience. The choucroûte garnie with house-made sausage that chef Kris Morningstar whips up at Terrine, the brightness of each lightbulb (which may change every hour), the look of the waiters' hand-tied bow ties at Faith & Flower (from Tie the Knot) — it all matters when it comes to getting diners to return, he says.

Bombet, 40, is just as particular when it comes to his personal style. He wears one brand of shoes, one type of watch and has a strong dislike for clothing that isn't fitted.

The former nightclub owner and current chief executive of Bombet Hospitality Group can't predict if or when a restaurant will be a hit, but he believes it has everything to do with the details.

Here he discusses napkin rings, shoes, shaving and kids:

First impressions matter: I spent six or seven Sundays going to the Rose Bowl, Santa Monica antiques market and Long Beach flea markets to find vintage napkin rings, dinnerware and silver-plated silverware for Terrine. The idea behind the mismatched plates and silverware is to make people think the restaurant is real and not a chain. For me, it brings more life, more authenticity. Every night I go around the restaurant and take notes. I pay attention to where the tables are arranged, the lighting, the service. We switch things around constantly. The idea of opening a restaurant, and that's that, it's done, that's a mistake.

Lighting must change constantly: It's something that gives me heartburn because it's always close to perfect, but never perfect. The light has to be different at different times. It's very much about making sure we highlight the key elements of the room, then each table, then create an ambience light almost like a glow for the whole restaurant.

Music pulls everything together: There is not a one-kind-of-music-fits-all when it comes to restaurants. I believe the music must complement the food and the décor. It may not be your style of music, but it feels good in the space. At Terrine, managing partner and wine director Francois Renaud has curated the playlist with Nino Ferrer, Frandol, the Specials, Ken Boothe, the Clash, Mano Negra, etc. … very eclectic. Like the food is.

Shoes matter: I've only worn Gucci shoes for the last 18 years of my life. They are always exactly the style I want. The last pair I bought was a black leather lace-up. I like Italian-made shoes.

A uniform is the best way to dress: Classic shoes, blue jeans, collared shirt and blazer. It's comfortable, and with my job it's something that is easy to wear during the day but works well at night, because you don't have time for a wardrobe change. I've been wearing Levi's for as long as I can remember, especially the Red Tab line. I also never leave the house without my Rolex. I have four. I got the first one, a vintage Submariner 5513 with a black dial, from my parents. My life as a restaurateur is hectic, so having a uniform makes me feel good. I've been wearing the same style for 20 years. It's very south of France, borderline Italian, but not very Parisian.

Go where the journey takes you: I was married to an actress and model in France, Vanessa Demouy, and so I worked indirectly with fashion in that it was something that I really paid attention to. I created my first nightclub when I was 20 called Bash in Paris. We ran this nightclub with no experience, and it became a huge success. Then we created [another club called] VIP Room. We had a fun time. I came here [2001] when I divorced and loved it from Day One. I remember landing and seeing the city through the windows, the blue sky, and saying, "Whoa. This is where I want to live." I made money selling my nightclubs, but I really thought it was the right time to try to create better food and restaurants in L.A.

If you want something done well, do it yourself: I cut my own hair; I trim my own beard. If I don't look good, I cannot go outside. It's a sign of respect. I don't shave much because I like my beard [but when I do shave], I use an old brand called Castle Forbes lime essential oil [and] the Gillette Fusion Chrome [razor].

Being a bad boy isn't always a bad thing: My favorite all-time singer is Serge Gainsbourg. One time he took money and burned it on live television. He liked controversy. What I like about him is he was what we call a dandy — very well dressed all the time. He was really not good-looking, but women were all over him. You know, a bad boy. I am not a bad boy, because I live my life with high values, but I definitely take a lot of risks in my business on a daily basis.

Sunday fun day is real: My kids are everything to me. I spend as much time as I can with them, even if it means sleeping just four to five hours a night. My wife, Natalie, and I love the outdoors. Sunday, at least until 2 p.m. I try to take off so we can take the kids [Jetsun, 7, and Lennon, 5] to the beach. If we have time, we go to Malibu, because it's beautiful and peaceful. But the kids are kids, so they love the Santa Monica Pier. And I do not wear flip-flops to the beach. I don't wear short pants, and I don't wear sweatpants.

Pleasures can be simple: I grew up in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. I was always around food. My dad runs a grocery store chain in Paris called Casino, and my parents are really, really good cooks. My mom does this lobster l' Americaine flambé with Cognac, crème fraîche , tomato paste and shallots. But I also like the idea of cheese, wine and Cognac. That would be my perfect meal. If I had to have one cheese for my last supper, it would be Camembert, with a fresh, warm and crispy baguette and a glass of Château Haut-Brion, premier grand cru classé. When it comes to Cognac, I would love some Louis XIII and hope I am not paying that bill. I only had it two times in my life, and it is still an incredible memory.

This story is part of the Los Angeles Times' Image Magazine spring fashion and travel issue.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
74°