Is This Town Big Enough for Two Horny Toads?

Both parties involved say they don't want to make the situation into something that it's not, and both express their respect for each other--but both Elka Gilmore and Marsha Sands are now saying that they are going to open restaurants named Horny Toad, and those restaurants are not one and the same.

When Horny Toad was mentioned in this column some months ago, it had been announced as a joint venture between Sands, who owns the excellent Camelions in Santa Monica, and Gilmore, who was the chef who helped make Camelions excellent. Though Gilmore's background was largely French, and her Camelions food more or less French-Californian in style, she was born in Texas and Horny Toad was conceived, she said at the time, as a kind of authentic Texas barbecue version of the Hard Rock Cafe. When Gilmore left Camelions suddenly last month, I asked both her and Sands if their Horny Toad project was still on. Sands said yes; Gilmore said, well, er, maybe.

Now, though, it has become clear that it isn't still on--not as a joint venture anyway. It has also become clear, though, that this town will have at least one restaurant called Horny Toad before the end of 1987. What is not clear is where the place will be located, and which of the women will own it.

"I'm just a business lady," says Sands, "and I'm just sorry that there's any confusion. But I plan to open Horny Toad in about six weeks, just where we always said it was going to be, in the old West End Garden on Wilshire at Barrington." (There's already a phone number for the restaurant at that address.) When I asked Sands about Gilmore's own plans to open a Horny Toad (about which more below), she answered, "This is a big city. There's room for everybody, and I hope everybody does well."

Gilmore, meanwhile, has gone into partnership with Paul Fleming, proprietor of the successful Ruth's Chris Steakhouses in Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Phoenix, and says that she plans to open her Horny Toad by the end of this month, just up the street from Fleming's Beverly Hills location, on the site of the old Acme Grill. And what about the Horny Toad abuilding further west? "I wish Marsha a great deal of success in whatever she does," Gilmore replies, "but Horny Toad has been my concept from the beginning. Anyway," she adds, "whatever Marsha does, my restaurant will be open first."

There was actually at least one Horny Toad already in business in America, incidentally--in Carefree, Ariz. There is also a spinoff of the place nearby, opened by the Carefree Horny Toad's original owner. It's called the Satisfied Frog.

APRES-MOI LE DELI: It sounds like a marriage made in, well, in somebody's crazed but probably quite savvy imagination. Bruce Marder, proprietor of the West Beach Cafe and Rebecca's, and soon-to-be proprietor of a large new restaurant called DC-3 in the works at the Santa Monica Airport, has been talking for some months about opening a fourth place, a high-class deli, on the mall in Santa Monica.

Now he has added a new twist to the project--a twist of Citrus. Pastry-chef/chef-chef Michel Richard, whose Citrus in Hollywood is both one of the hottest and one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles today, has tentatively agreed to go into partnership with Marder on the deli project. And Citrus co-owner Marvin Zeidler, it seems, is threatening to manage the place. Don't start salivating for brioche dough bagels or chopped foie gras sandwiches on rye, though. The place isn't scheduled to open until April of 1989.

A TASTE OF MONEY: The first "A Taste of L.A." food and wine festival, in 1986, was widely criticized for not forking over the expected sums to the local charities it was supposed to be benefiting. Finances for the 1987 festival are arranged differently, with a donation to the organizations in question virtually guaranteed--and, I am happy to report, "Taste" producer Martin J. Ellis has now presented a check for $62,050 in festival returns to the Greater Los Angeles Partnership for the Homeless, the Ocean Park Community Center and the St. Joseph Center.

WHAT'S HOT: Monday night, City Restaurant in L.A. will present an evening of champagne, food and comedy to benefit the Scleroderma Research Foundation (scleroderma being an incurable degenerative disease attacking body tissue). Call (213) 938-4802 for information. . . .

Monday is also Ensenada night at El Cholo on Western Avenue--Margaritas, oysters, brochettes of beef, chicken and shrimp, buckets of Corona, mariachis and such for $35 per person. . . .

Tomorrow evening too, the Miramar-Sheraton Hotel in Santa Monica will open its doors to the fifth annual "Taste of the Santa Monica Area" festival (no relation to "A Taste of L.A."), benefiting several local charities. Gladstone's, the Palm Court, Knoll's Black Forest Inn, Junior's, Panache and Mort's Palisades Deli are among participating restaurants. . . .

The following day, Red Ribbon 100 presents its "Showboat Champagne Fest '87," featuring a wide selection of champagne and wine plus "a lavish gourmet buffet" on board the Rueben E. Lee in Newport Beach, starting at 6:30 p.m. Proceeds go to the American Red Cross. Call (714) 835-5381 for details. . . .

And the Thai cooking class featuring Victor Sodsook of the Siamese Princess in Hollywood that was originally scheduled for today at the restaurant has been postponed until next Sunday.

WHAT'S NEW: The Raiders might be moving to Irwindale, but meanwhile the Dodgers have moved to South Pasadena--or at least team manager Tommy Lasorda has, opening a second branch of his Tommy Lasorda's Ribs and Pasta restaurant there. (The first is in Marina Del Rey.) . . . Ruby B's deluxe coffee shop is due soon on Pico near Overland. The menu includes burgers, meat loaf, salmon croquettes, roast turkey and all kinds of old-fashioned breakfast fare. Owners are Bruce Saiber and Bill Chait of the Angel City Grill. . . . And Chloe Ross and Rita Garlington of Foodsource HotLine and the LA a la Carte newsletter have announced the impending publication of a full-scale magazine version of the latter, to debut late in November as, they say, "the first independently published regional food and restaurant magazine in the country."

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