A Cafe by Any Other Name . . .


Chef Neil Rogers has left Cafe Neil and taken his menu and maitre d’ Philippe Gris with him. The two have just opened Cafe Bizou in Sherman Oaks on Ventura Boulevard, just east of Fatburger.

Three years ago, Katsu Michite, owner of Katsu, Cafe Katsu and Katsu 3rd, sold his 6-year-old Cafe Katsu that featured Rogers’ cooking. At the time, the restaurant was known for its elegant food at bargain prices.

“The new owner immediately raised the prices,” Rogers says. “When business began to drop off, I convinced him to go back to the original format. He did and within six months it was going great again.


“Then, last June, the guy had this smart idea to change the name to Cafe Neil. I told him, Philippe told him, we all told him it was a big mistake: People have known this restaurant for the last nine years as Cafe Katsu. But he went ahead and changed the name anyway and put the prices up about 15%. That’s just too much of a burden for people to take right now. And business started falling off again. Now he’s in the process of selling the cafe.”

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cafe Neil’s Jesse Angil says. “The new owner is still trying to figure everything out. We don’t even know whether he’ll want to change the name or not.”

The name of the new owner has not been disclosed while the deal is still going through.

Meanwhile, over in the Valley at Cafe Bizou, Rogers is cooking exactly the same menu, except for the lobster. Entrees range from $9.95 to $14.95. “Our prices are about 30% lower than Cafe Neil,” Rogers says. “The chicken there is $14.95. Over here it’s $10.95.” And, with any entree, Rogers will throw in soup or salad for $1.

“I’m trying to start a new trend here,” he says. “Good French food at reasonable prices.”


Luigi’s List: Poor Luigi Veronelli must have encountered some terrible pasta on his semi-annual visits to these shores because the Italian food and wine critic, who is also known as the James Beard of Italy, has now come out with a guide to “The Best Italian Restaurants in America.” The fat paperback rates 700 Italian restaurants in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“To be included, it had to be a serious Italian restaurant,” explains the guide’s Modena-based editor, Gianni Salvaterra. “Just because a restaurant has an Italian name and some pasta on the menu doesn’t make it Italian. The majority we listed are owned by people of Italian heritage.”

One chef’s toque indicates very good cuisine; two, superior; three, outstanding. The highest rating, a sun symbol, was bestowed on only three restaurants: Remi in New York--and our own Valentino and Rex. Other Los Angeles restaurants reviewed in the book include Campanile (two toques), Locanda Veneta (two), Ca’ Brea (one), Little Joe’s (one), Madeo (one) and Emilio’s, Farfalla, Orso--none. There are some glaring omissions from Veronelli’s guide: Drago, Fama, Giorgio, Emporio Armani, to name a few.


If you believe Veronelli, the best chef in the country, male division, is Francesco Antonucci of Remi in New York. The best female chef is Marta Pulini of Mad.61, who also happens to be Salvaterra’s fiancee. According to Salvaterra, who reviewed many of the restaurants for the guide, one of his best finds was Mosca, a small restaurant in Jefferson, La., run by American-born Vincenzo Mosca and his wife, Maria Marconi, who is the chef.

And the biggest disappointment? “Il Mulino in New York,” Salvaterra says with a sniff. “It was a top-rated Italian restaurant in Zagat. Garlic, garlic, garlic. The chef puts thousands of cloves of garlic on everything.”


Chef Moves: Marc Valiani, who was chef at Rox in Los Angeles and before that worked with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Eureka, has left town. He has taken over the kitchen at Moose’s, a busy North Beach hangout in San Francisco. . . . Ma Maison Sofitel chef John Wedig has landed in the kitchen at DC3. The grad of the Culinary Institute of America plans to take the Santa Monica restaurant to new heights.


The Big 4-1: Taylor’s Prime Steaks, the landmark red leather steakhouse on 8th Street known for the best steak value in town, celebrates 41 years on Monday. “Last year we had a big celebration and passed out old menus to all our customers,” says owner Bruce Taylor. “This year we are going to pass out old menus from the 1950s only to our loyal ones.”