Indian Restaurants: Some Openings and Closings

One of L.A.'s oldest Indian restaurants, Gitanjali on La Cienega Boulevard, has closed. It was opened in 1978 by then-husband-and-wife team Prem and Tara Chadda, and it remained joint property when the couple divorced in the early 1980s. Prem took over management of the establishment, while Tara (with Prem's participation) opened an Indian place of her own in Santa Monica, called Shanta.

Prem went on to build up a serious wine list at Gitanjali--as good as that at many European restaurants in town, and positively stunning for an Indian restaurant. With the help of his French-born second wife, Solange, he also added some hybrid "French-Indian" dishes to the menu.

Meanwhile, in 1987, Tara renamed her own restaurant Shakun ("It's a tradition in India to change the name of a business or bring in a new partner every seven years," she explains) and simultaneously opened a French-style restaurant called Tara's on the site of the old Dale's Secret Harbor on Wilshire Boulevard at Normandie. Tara's failed. "I hadn't done my homework about the area," she says. "I didn't realize that it wasn't a place people wanted to come at night to a nice restaurant." Worse, she adds, when she began to give her full attention to Shakun again, she found that she had lost much of her previous clientele. "People walked in and didn't see me there," she says. "They thought the place had new owners."

In an attempt to get a fresh start with a new group of customers, she closed Shakun last summer, completely redecorated it, developed a new menu, and then reopened it in September as the British Raaj. "I wanted people to have the impression that this was an entirely new restaurant," she says. Prem, meanwhile, had developed other business interests in addition to Gitanjali. "We talked about it," says Tara, "and it made sense to both of us to close Gitanjali and concentrate on the British Raaj. Prem travels a lot, but whenever he's in town, he will be working closely with us. Among other things, we've taken over a lot of his wine, and he will be helping us keep up that aspect of the business."

NO-SHOW INSURANCE:

The Raymond Restaurant in Pasadena has its own solution to the vexing restaurant no-show problem, often discussed in this column: In common with some other local establishments, the restaurant requests credit card numbers from callers making reservations--informing them that their accounts will be charged $25 per person if they neither arrive nor cancel. But instead of automatically billing the customer if the reservation isn't kept, a more personal approach is used. "The first thing we do," says Raymond co-owner Michael Burlingham, "is call or write to the offending party the next day to ask what happened. I have to admit that we've had a few embarrassing situations where we've come on very strong because a party didn't show up, and then we find out that it was our mistake--that somebody did call to cancel and it didn't get properly recorded, or that the party was there but for some reason gave a different name. If people admit that it was their error, though, we give them a polite lecture explaining our side of the situation. Everyone is usually very understanding, and they apologize and promise not to do the same thing again. Often they'll make a new reservation, and keep it this time. We very seldom have to actually charge anybody a fee, but we do like to have it there as leverage."

On the other side of the question, the Raymond guarantees that reservations will be honored promptly. "There's a simple reason for that," says Burlingham. "We reserve each table only once each night. There are no tables for VIPs, and we don't double-book. That's why no-shows hurt us so much. But that's also why anybody with a reservation will absolutely be seated immediately."

HOW NOW BROWN'S BAR?:

I must report the demise of yet another restaurant project announced in this column: Brown's Bar & Grill. It was supposed to have opened on the site of the old Le Cou-Cou on La Cienega. Principals were to have been restaurateur Bill Huggins and Beverly Hills real estate broker Craig Brown, with Mark Gonzales as chef. Before work began on the restaurant in earnest, though, Huggins bowed out, and the project fizzled. Brown now says, "I just don't have time to work on it now. It's dead." He adds that he still wants to open a restaurant, but that he doesn't think it will happen this year.

RUMOR CONTROL:

Silvio DiMori, proprietor of Tuttobene in Hollywood, Tuttopasta downtown, and Tuttopasta Maria in Brentwood, informs this column that there is no truth to reports that he plans to buy back the site of his old (and now long-defunct) Silvio's on Melrose. "That was an idea that was discussed briefly at a private gathering," he says, "but it never went anywhere. I have no idea how anybody heard about it."

BRUSSELS SPROUTS:

Will Belgian cuisine be the next big thing to hit L.A.? Probably not. But the Belgian-born owners of Chapo on Melrose have instituted a series of monthly prix-fixe Belgian-style dinners--featuring such dishes as curly endive salad, prawns with wild mushroom sauce and rabbit stewed with beer, onions and raisins (other choices are available). This month's dinner is Wednesday, January 24 and will cost $30 per person. . . . And Nicolas Klontz, former chef-proprietor of Le Grand Maur in Spa, Belgium (rated 14/20 in the Guide Gault-Millau), is the new chef at the Grand House in San Pedro. Before joining the Grand House, Klontz was executive chef at the late 400 North Canon in Beverly Hills.

RESTAURANT MISCELLANY:

Among the new eating places in the L.A. area, opened in the past month or so, are: La Bon Vie in Arcadia, a Cajun restaurant launched by noted Cajun-born jockey Ray Sibille; California Beach, a "rock 'n' sushi" establishment on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood (earlier California Beaches are in Hermosa Beach and Newport Beach); and a third version of the Mexican-themed Manana Restaurants, this one in Los Alamitos, joining existing Mananas in Pasadena and Fountain Valley.

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