More news on the local Italian restaurant front: John Strobel, co-founder and co-owner of the Angeli restaurants, is leaving the operation to his partner, chef Evan Kleiman. "I feel I'm leaving the restaurants in good hands," says Strobel. "There are a lot of great people working at the restaurants now. I'll really miss the staff a lot. But the party's over for me, and it's on to bigger and better things."
Strobel is now looking at locations for a place of his own. "I think there are still things missing in the restaurant business here, and needs that can be filled. I view what everybody's saying about the state of the economy not as a deterrent but as an opportunity--and I can guarantee you that what I do will be something very inexpensive, casual, and accessible."
Kleiman said: "It was a really good relationship for a really long time, but I think we just decided to take different paths. John wants to do some new things, and I really wish him the best."
Meanwhile, Celestino Drago, who recently left his eponymous Celestino in Beverly Hills (though he retains 50% ownership in the place) has just signed a deal to take over the old Le Cellier on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica--most recently the site of the short-lived Splash II.
"I'm going to open up the front of the place," Drago says, "take out the booths and replace them with tables like at Celestino. The food will be similar to what I was doing there, which is what I do best." He hopes to open the place in May, and will probably call it simply Drago.
WHAT'S COOKING: There's a new chef at Primi in West Los Angeles--Enrico Glaudo, who comes here directly from the Antica Osteria del Ponte in Cassinetta di Lugagnano, Italy's newest (and only second) Michelin three-star restaurant. . . . Elmer Azuma, former chef-owner of Chabuya, then chef at the regrettably short-lived Truffles, and most recently pastry chef at the Sakana Club in Brentwood, has taken over as lunch chef at Sakana, preparing a menu of his specialties. . . . The popular New York restaurant/food store chain Burke & Burke has opened its first West Coast outlet, on the site of the late Pastel in the Rodeo Collection in Beverly Hills. . . . Zuni Grill is new in Irvine, opened by restaurateur David Wilhelm--also proprietor of Kachina in Laguna Beach, Bistro 201 in Irvine, and Barbacoa on Newport Bay. . . . Bertuccia Trattoria has been opened in West Hollywood by Marco Tencanera and Valerie Cuny (whose father, Alain Cuny, owns Berty's in Brentwood, the Wine Bistro in Studio City, and Le Sanglier in Tarzana). . . . Peppe Miele, proprietor of L.A. Trattoria, is about to open an adjunct--an authentic old-style Neapolitan-inspired pizza parlor called Antic Pizzeria. . . . Tulipe has introduced a $28 fixed-price menu including appetizer, main course, dessert, and one glass of red or white house wine (but not including coffee, tax, or tips). Among the dishes offered are wild mushroom fricassee or mache salad with goat-cheese terrine to start, and seared sea scallops with Maui onions or grilled duck with five spices as main courses. . . . And volunteer workers at the Assistance League of Southern California's Fountain Court Restaurant in Hollywood will model 19th- and 20th-Century Easter bonnets and costumes through the end of this month. The restaurant also invites patrons to bring in their own Easter bonnets, which will be displayed during the week prior to Easter and judged on Friday, March 29, by a celebrity guest. Best bonnet will earn its owner a $25 gift at the adjacent gift shop.
THE LAST COURSE: Le Perroquet, opened in Chicago in 1972, was, with Lutece in New York and (slightly later) the Cellar in Fullerton, the first restaurant in America to offer serious "nouvelle cuisine." Nouvelle cuisine, of course, is now passe--and so is Le Perroquet, which closed its doors in January. . . . Another pioneering restaurant, or at least the immediate descendant of one, has closed as well: the Other Place in Seattle. The original restaurant of that name, opened by Robert Rosellini in 1974, virtually created Pacific Northwestern cuisine, developing and featuring superb regional products and espousing a fresh, clean, French-influenced but all-American cooking style. It also had a nationally famous wine list. The Other Place closed in 1986, but reopened in a smaller and less expensive incarnation a year later, as a joint venture between Rosellini and partner Steven Burnell. Now it, too, is gone. . . . Legendary restaurant impresario Joe Baum has closed his troubled Aurora in New York City, but hopes to reopen it later in the year with new investors. . . . Another well-known and highly-rated Manhattan restaurant, La Tulipe, has also closed. Proprietors John and Sally Darr say they intend to retire from the restaurant business, at least for now. The new owners of the property will reopen the premises under a different name. . . . And meanwhile, in London, restaurants are said to be shuttering at the rate of nearly one a day since the beginning of the year. Among the most recent casualties: Keats, Le Mazarin, Windy City, Cafe St. Quentin, and the four Swiss Centre restaurants--Chesa, Taverna, Locanda, and Rendezvous. Even the city's top-rated establishments are hurting, with many of them offering free wine or special menus in an attempt to lure customers. The three-star Le Gavroche, for instance, has dropped its fixed-price menu from about $110 to $75 per person. And a cartoon in a recent edition of the Evening Standard depicts controversial self-taught chef Nico Ladenis kneeling in an imploring pose before his two-star Chez Nico, which is apparently empty, while a passing gentleman remarks to his wife, "Isn't that the famous chef who threw us out last week for ordering a steak well-done?"