Chinois’ Chef Will Soon Have His Own Restaurant

“I want to keep low key about the whole thing because I have to finish here for the next 30 days,” says Kazuto Matsusaka. “Here” is Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main, where Matsusaka has been cooking for the last eight years. “The whole thing,” is his own restaurant, which will also be located in Santa Monica just a few blocks away on Ocean Avenue in the space now occupied by Fennel.

“This is what I have been looking for for a long time,” the chef says. “It’s a single investor from Japan. Basically he put up the money and said, ‘Here is the place, run the restaurant.’ ”

Matsusaka says he plans to be a part of the whole process. “Whatever is necessary--designing the kitchen, designing the menu, deciding on what the interior is going to be.”

While he hasn’t decided on the menu, Matsusaka knows what the food won’t be--what he has been cooking at Chinois. It will be “more a mixture of a lot of Asian food with a California twist to it.”


While no definite name for the restaurant has been decided on, Matsusaka has been suggested. “Sounds really good,” says the chef, “but it’s kind of scary. To use my own name. We’ll see. . . .”

And what about Fennel? The restaurant’s co-owner, Gary Friedman, says that although the property and the liquor license have been sold, the restaurant itself is “not closing but relocating.”

The owners have retained the Fennel name, the staff, the fixtures and the furniture and are searching for a new location in order to make the relocation as swiftly as possible.

Fennel co-owner Mauro Vincente says the decision to sell the restaurant was strictly a real estate decision. “We owned all the property, Fennel and the place next door, and we got an offer we absolutely couldn’t refuse,” he says. Rumor puts the deal at $8 million dollars, which the owners refuse to either confirm or deny. What they will say is that “Fennel is not dead. It is doing very well.”


DEJA VU DINING: Asylum has a new chef and a new menu . . . again. When chef Guy LeRoy left after three months, owner John Thomas promoted sous chef Michel Walthere to his post. “I wanted to take my time finding another chef,” says Thomas, “Michel held down the fort. But now I’ve hired Vaughn Allen.” Allen, who has cooked at Chinois, Spago, La Toque and L’Ermitage, says his menu will be a combination of Pacific Rim and California cuisines using fresh ingredients, “light cuisine, health conscious, using very wholesome products.”

And what about Walthere? Although he has left Asylum, he says he doesn’t want to burn any bridges. Says Walthere: “It was fun, a good experience, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people.”

CLOSINGS: When John Strobel took over Yanks in Beverly Hills, he briefly turned it into a Latin restaurant called Fenix Cafe-Bar. Then Strobel changed his mind about the food, fired his chef, and turned his restaurant into an American bistro. “It’s as if I got off the wrong exit on the freeway and got back on and now I am getting off in the right neighborhood,” Strobel told the Times. Now it seems Strobel has got off the freeway for good. When you call the restaurant you get this recording: “Hello. You’ve reached Fenix restaurant, we have closed our doors to business, unfortunately. Thank you for your support. Happy trails.”

K FOR KOSTLY?: Marc Ehrler, who left his job as chef at the San Ysidro Ranch in October, has been busy. First, he consulted on a new menu for the Wine Cask restaurant in Santa Barbara; now he’s in the Caribbean at the luxurious K Club resort in Barbuda. The K Club (read K for Krizia, the Italian fashion people) charges only $1,000 a day, and is managed by the Bel Air Hotel company. Ehrler is busy developing a very bi-coastal menu--it reflects southern France and the West Coast.


STOCKPOT: Fama chef Hansdieter Walser has left the restaurant and will return to Germany to open his own restaurant. Adam Smith of the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara has been hired to replace Walser. Fama will close for three days beginning December 22 for remodeling. . . . Rockenwagner in Santa Monica is now open for breakfast and, starting on Tuesday, will be open for lunch as well. . . . Senso Unico, a Milanese cafe, has opened in San Marino. . . . Jerry’s Famous Deli, which opened recently in Marina Del Rey, now has a full service entertainment and corporate catering division at that location. . . . Indigo Restaurant in Los Angeles now offers delivery service for $2.50 within a two-mile radius of the restaurant.

CLOSING/OPENING: Sostanza, the Italian trattoria on Wilshire and Bundy, has closed. It will reopen within two weeks as Castel, a California French seafood bistro. Jean-Pierre Bosc will be in charge of the kitchen. The chef, who trained under Paul Bocuse, came from France to open Fennel. He then left to go to Le Comptoir in New York for five weeks, and then came back to cook at La Serre. He left the Valley after three months “to look for a restaurant where I can do my own cooking.”