Kate Mantilini: Late-Night Restaurant

Times Staff Writer

"This restaurant is very much a sign of the times," said John Sedlar of the new restaurant Kate Mantilini. And Sedlar should know--he's the owner of Saint Estephe, a Manhattan Beach restaurant serving cuisine he once described as "post-modern Southwest cooking."

Sedlar sits at the counter of Kate's--as it is referred to by those in the know--on a Saturday night around 12:30 a.m. A waiter plunks down a platter of frog legs and Sedlar asks rhetorically, "Now where can you go for frog legs at this time of night? A new day has come to Los Angeles."

Slow Metamorphosis

Sedlar wasn't the only one rhapsodizing about this city's chic eatery du jour owned by Marilyn and Harry Lewis of the Hamburger Hamlet chain. (Kate Mantilini was a boxing promoter in the '40s and a close friend of Marilyn's uncle.) Other patrons were equally enthralled as they gobbled up late-night menu items like steak, meatloaf sandwiches on Wonder Bread and hot-fudge sundaes served in a glass. Kate's is now open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. and plans are in the works to go to a 24-hour schedule, giving L.A. another much-needed late-night/early morning haunt.

While Kate's was under construction at Wilshire Boulevard and Doheny Drive, it was nothing but a big tease. Passers-by watched its slow metamorphosis from a boring, blocky bank building to a hip restaurant, complete with a huge mural of boxers and a row of wooden booths reminiscent of train compartments (Thom Mayne and Michael Rotundi of Morphosis were the architects). New York-y is the term most often used by people to describe the atmosphere, referring to its late hours and its sleek gray, black and white interior.

At 1 a.m. people continue to pour in: men in Hugo Boss suits and a three-day growth of beard, couples dressed to match the interior, women with dyed-black hair and spiky heels. The handsome maitre d' whispers about the entertainment industry big shots who vie for tables.

Architects Gather

In walks architect Bernard Zimmerman, designer of Citrus, Michel Richard's new restaurant on Melrose. Wearing a tuxedo, the shirt open and a crimson scarf around his neck, Zimmerman looks as if he just stepped off the conductor's podium. "I love it--the design, the food, the people," he says as his eyes scan the room. "I want to get a group of architects together to come here on Thursdays to sit around and talk about architecture. There is a shortage of good places like this."

Finishing Pies

Across the room sits New York architect Herman Howard and Toni Sims, a marketing assistant, who are cleaning up the last remnants of apple pie and chocolate pecan pie.

Howard, who was a college classmate of Zimmerman, is also impressed with the surroundings. "Not only do you get a good sense of the people," he says, "but also of the space. Because of the materials used there's a lot of movement in the building. It isn't very warm, but in many ways that's almost inviting to L.A. people."

Kate Mantilini, 9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (213) 278-3699.

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