French restaurants have had a hard time of it lately. In the last year, Tulipe, Fennel, La Toque, Picnic, the Bistro, Champagne Bis, Fleur de Vin and Dale’s Bistro have all closed. Now, two more have called it quits.
The Beverly Hilton Hotel’s L’Escoffier restaurant went through a face lift and some other nips and tucks two years ago. Along with an expensive refurbishing job, owner Merv Griffin hired a new maitre d’ (Fernand Pointas, although he doesn’t use his last name) and a new chef (Michel Blanchet). But the classic French restaurant never really made the move into the ‘90s. Now Griffin has closed the rooftop room that has long been known as the best place in town to take grandma for dinner and dancing. The space will now be booked for private parties.
“The restaurant has been very slow during the week but extremely popular on the weekends,” says the hotel spokeswoman, “so (management) decided it would be better off doing private parties and functions and then decide what to do with the restaurant after the Christmas season.”
Chef Blanchet, who previously cooked at the venerable La Cienega restaurant L’Ermitage until it unexpectedly closed its doors three years ago, will stay on through December. “He’s going to get the chance to be a lot more creative,” says the spokeswoman. “And by then management will have an idea of what they want to do with the space.” No word yet on the whereabouts of Fernand.
Meanwhile, 7-year-old Ma Maison at the Sofitel, the beautiful room where Patrick Terrail tried to re-create his famous Melrose Avenue restaurant, has also been turned into a banquet hall.
Olive Branches?: At least fans of Olive have reason to celebrate. The unmarked Fairfax Avenue hangout, due to close in early October, has had its life extended for another month or two. Meanwhile, says soon-to-be-unemployed chef Dale Payne, the owners continue to look for a new space to open another Olive. “Customers like it too much,” says Payne, who took over the kitchen when chef Robert Gadsby decamped.
“In the latest Vanity Fair there’s an interview with (director) Quentin Tarantino that described the Olive as ‘practically the only perpetually cool restaurant in L.A. . . .’ Yes, well, it’s perpetually cool, but now we have decent food too. In fact, the crowd is actually eating the food instead of just coming for the scene.”
Remi Unruffled?: Josie Le Balch has left Remi in Santa Monica, where she has been cooking since the Venetian restaurant opened on Third Street Promenade in 1990. According to owner Jivan Tabibian, the cigar-smoking chef (she was trained by the original chef-owner Francesco Antonucci, who left after two months to reopen the original New York Remi in a larger space) plans to take a long extended ski vacation in Utah. “She wanted to take a break,” says Tabibian. “She’s been working four and a half years nonstop.”
Before she left, Le Balch helped prepare a team of chefs to take over the kitchen. Her replacement, Chris Bochino, flew to New York to work with Antonucci, and sous chef Chris Shaffer was sent to Italy to train at Dall’Amelia, near Venice. “It was a smooth, predictable transition,” says Tabibian, “and I couldn’t have done it without Josie’s help.” Le Balch was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Openings: A recent spate of openings include Asia Garden in the former Tse Yang space in Beverly Hills. Chinese businessman Michael Chu, who owns 52 restaurants in various parts of the world, plans to offer Japanese, Thai and Chinese dishes. . . . Citation restaurant has opened in the casino at the Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood. Named after the thoroughbred that won the Triple Crown, the eclectic menu features chicken, beef, pork, ostrich but no horse meat. . . . Patrick Gruest has finally opened Les Arts in the old Fleur de Vin space in Pasadena. The contemporary French menu is by chef Jean Marie Konnert, who comes from the famous old Brasserie Georges in Lyon, France. He also cooked at the not-quite-as-famous Rive Gauche in Washington. . . . Naples T.L.C. Corp. has opened Tavola Calda on Melrose. Located in the former Rosso e Nero and adjoining dress shop spaces, chef Vincenzo Nicoletti’s menu features risotto di frutti di mare, grilled steak, fritto misto and other dishes, all under $10.