New Madame Wu’s Will Be Smaller--Big Is Out of Style

Fans of Madame Wu’s Garden in Santa Monica have expressed concern at seeing a “Notice of Pending Development Permit” sign in front of the Wilshire Boulevard establishment. Is the place going out of business? No, says Sylvia Wu, but changes are afoot.

Her plan is to replace the existing restaurant with a three-story commercial building. A smaller Madame Wu’s and several retail shops will go on the ground floor, and offices will be leased out on the other two levels.

Wu opened her first restaurant roughly 29 years ago, down the street from her current place, in the site subsequently occupied (and recently vacated) by Le Cellier. She moved to the present-day facility almost 20 years ago, which she built from the ground up, installing four full-size dining rooms seating about 300 people. “For the first 10 years or so,” she says, “all four dining rooms were full every night. Then it started to slow down--and for the past five years, we’ve really felt the competition.” Besides, she says, “big restaurants are out of style now.”

The new Madame Wu’s will have only about 100 seats, she says. As soon as her permit application is approved, she will close the old restaurant and reopen approximately 14 months later. “We’ll definitely stay open in our present form through the end of the year,” she says, “maybe as long as another 10 or 12 months.”

UP-SCALA MENU: Another veteran L.A. restaurant has reopened in a new home. La Scala, which debuted in Beverly Hills a year or two before Madame Wu launched her first place, was forced to vacate its longtime home on Little Santa Monica Boulevard (at Beverly Drive) a few months ago to make way for a new high-tone retail/office complex. It now has new quarters a few blocks away at 410 N. Canon Drive. The new place, open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., is more casual and less expensive than the original, and features a number of new dishes--among them, salmon with white truffle sauce, tortelloni with eggplant and goat cheese, and duck sausage with cannelli beans--in addition to staples from the earlier menu.

DINNER DATES AND NOTES: The rice-and-lentil mixture made from a recipe popularly believed to have been the biblical Esau’s “mess of pottage” will be served as part of a five-course banquet at Al-Amir off Wilshire on Sept. 18. Recipes for the meal are based on the personal cookbooks of the 9th-Century caliphs of Baghdad. Other dishes to be served include roast chicken with apricots, and eggplant with ground walnuts, caraway and vinegar. The L.A. chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food sponsors the event. Tickets are priced at $40 for Institute members, $50 for non-members, and includes wine and live Middle Eastern oud (it’s like a lute) music. . . . De Milo restaurant on Larchmont in Hollywood features the wines of William Hill with a six-course dinner next Sunday evening from 6:30 p.m. The cost is $50 a head. . . . Ma-Be in West Hollywood celebrates its first anniversary Sunday afternoon, Sept. 24 with a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” to benefit the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS. Hors d’oeuvres and desserts will be served, and there will be music for tea dancing, a hat fashion show, and a silent auction of birthday cakes created by L.A. celebrity chefs. Tickets are $15 apiece. . . . Beaudry’s and Top of Five, both in the downtown Westin Bonaventure Hotel, feature the wines of Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle winery and special menus based on ingredients from the Pacific Northwest, through the end of September. . . . Joe Cantisani has closed his Di Canti Ristorante in La Jolla and moved to the Bottle Inn in Hermosa Beach--bringing the best of his wine cellar along. . . . Champagne in West L.A. has closed for lunch (but will take reservations for private parties at noontime)--and is now open seven nights a week for dinner. . . . And Tse Yang in Beverly Hills has begun serving a $12.75 prix fixe menu on weekdays.