Smokers who take issue with no-smoking rules in restaurants often bring up the Perfume Question. If I can’t smoke my cigarettes (much less my pipe or my cigar) because its odor bothers other diners, they reason, then why isn’t strong-smelling perfume or cologne--the scent of which can be just as distracting to diners--banned, too?

This reasoning ignores the health hazards of second-hand smoke--but anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be seated in an eating place next to some matron florid with Jungle Gardenia, some bit of Euro-trash in a cloud of Opium or Poison, or some cool cat drowning in his own Canoe, must surely feel some sympathy with the basic notion there.

The smell of too much perfume or cologne can be genuinely disgusting. The person who is wearing the stuff probably doesn’t even notice it--the human olfactory system tends to block out constantly-encountered odors after awhile--but every unlucky honker within 30 feet or so sure does. Restaurateurs, though--who have enough to worry about, lord knows--have traditionally taken suggestions of a perfume/cologne ban as something of a joke.


Now, though, Richard Lavin of Lavin’s Restaurant and Wine Bar in New York City has decided to treat the issue seriously. He allows cigarette smoking in his dining room but bans pipes, cigars and clove cigarettes--and has recently installed a sign in the window, and added a note to the menu, requesting that patrons do not wear Giorgio perfume or any patchouli-scented substance. And how serious is this prohibition? Has Lavin felt constrained to toss any Giorgio-drenched patrons out onto West 39th Street?

“No,” he said with a laugh, “I haven’t thrown anybody out. But the ban has certainly engendered some spirited discussions.” He said that he’s had letters of support from all over the country, and that a number of other restaurateurs have told him, in effect, “I wish I’d thought of that.” He doesn’t have anything personal against Giorgio or patchouli, Lavin hastens to explain--or for that matter against pipes or cigars, “but there comes a point at which these things really do interfere with the enjoyment of food and wine.” He said that though Giorgio and patchouli are certainly not the only offenders, he has no plans to add more brands or scents to his blacklist. “I think the point has been made.” On the other hand, he said, “for patrons who like to wear perfume, I’d be glad to recommend some alternatives--champagne behind the ears, for instance, or Chardonnay behind the knees.”

SHORT ORDERS: It’s look but don’t bite at the 20th annual Culinary Arts Salon and Gallery of Chefs today, from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Irvine Marriott Hotel. Sponsored by the Orange Empire Chefs Assn., the event features ice and butter carvings, chocolate sculptures, architectural-scale pastries, etc. A Gourmet Awards dinner follows at the hotel at 7:30 p.m. Charge to the public is $5 for the salon and $35 for the dinner. . . . Gaylord’s in North Hollywood celebrates Veterans Day Tuesday by offering that old military standby, chipped beef on toast (i.e., “S.O.S.”), as a luncheon special. . . . New chefs are in the kitchens at Bistango on La Cienega (Dale Stanford Payne, a veteran of Trumps, Spago and New York’s Petaluma and Pronto), Fiasco in Marina del Rey (Jim Rattray, one-time executive chef at the Bel Air Sands Hotel) and the Original Sonora Cafe downtown (Felix Salcedo, former head chef at the Ritz in Newport Beach). And Michael Olmeda, who was head chef at Perino’s for 14 years, has just been hired by the Sonora’s parent company to be executive chef for the Sonora Cafe, the El Cholo restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange and La Habra, and the Cat & the Custard Cup, also in La Habra. . . . Christine Hartnett, former chef at the Ranch House in Ojai, has moved out to nearby Wheeler Hot Springs, so that you can now have a hot sulfur-water bath and some decent grub at the same location. . . . Orleans in West Los Angeles adds alligator, duck, rabbit, frog’s legs and turtle to the menu this month, and the Pacific Dining Car, downtown, offers a “Festival of Game” through the end of December, serving venison, wild boar, hare, and pheasant. . . . L’Express Brasserie of Sherman Oaks and Hollywood has opened a new branch on Wilshire in West Los Angeles. . . . Bao Wow in Encino has instituted an all-you-can-eat dim-sum-and-champagne brunch Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., and has added Michel Richard desserts to the menu.

ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T MEAN JOAN COLLINS?: Have you ever wondered what the single most popular cocktail in Los Angeles was? The Margarita? The martini? The Perrier with lime and no ice, please? Guess again: It’s the Tom Collins, that old-fashioned, summery tall glass of gin, lemon juice and soda--at least according to a recent survey conducted by the Distilled Spirits Council. The Margarita did take first place in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, though, and the vodka martini (which isn’t really a martini at all, in my book) won the honors in our nation’s hard-drinking capital. Places for serious drinkers to avoid, based on the survey: Boston (whose favorite tipple is the Cape Codder--vodka and cranberry juice) and Denver (coffee liqueur and coffee; must be something about the weather). Places for serious drinkers to frequent: Seattle (Scotch on the rocks) and, above all, Pittsburgh (whiskey, on the rocks or straight).