By night, it's one of the right places to be, an elegant restaurant filled with star players. (Last week's famous faces included attorney Robert Shapiro with Diana Ross; Diane Sawyer with Robert H. Tourtelot, attorney for Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman, and Larry King and MGM President and CEO Frank Mancuso, who eat there several times a week--but not together.)
This week, Tuesday morning, things were already hopping at Eclipse in West Hollywood (the former site of Morton's). When doors opened at 10 a.m., a parking attendant was on hand to move eight luxury automobiles, including one chauffeur-driven BMW.
The arrivals were Eclipse regulars all, who promptly dumped their Botega, Prada and Chanel handbags on chairs and rolled up their sleeves--two work shirts, one T-shirt, one cashmere sweater and a few well-pressed white cotton shirts, minus major jewels. Movie producer David Niven Jr., the lone male, dashed in from a meeting for Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving, which he chairs, in a jacket and tie.
Welcome to cooking school at Eclipse. This was no ordinary class. And these were no ordinary students. Some have made the rounds of other exclusive classes first offered at Ma Maison, then at Spago. During demonstrations, there was chat about meals consumed at three-star restaurants in the South of France and the merits of Wolf versus Viking professional ovens.
Candy Spelling, who said she doesn't cook anymore but still proved to be a knowledgeable gastronome, admitted that the restaurant kitchen seemed tiny. Hers at home, she allowed, was four or five times larger.
"You've got to have a cooking class," Mancuso's wife, Fay, said were her words months ago to Eclipse owner Bernard Erpicum. Since Eclipse is known for its light, California-by-way-of-Provence cuisine, especially fish, the food appeals to current sensibilities.
"Except Italian codfish, I don't cook fish well," Mancuso admitted. "You give me a piece of salmon and I don't know what to do with it."
"My family likes everything fat free. Their theory is that if you eat something fat, it turns to fat on your body," said Niven, who let it be known that what he really wanted was a good, thick dessert, which wasn't on the agenda.
The three dishes chef Serge Falesitch whipped up as the class looked on were grilled Louisiana shrimp with a fava bean and haricot vert salad, Maine salmon baked in parchment paper, and New Zealand green lipped mussels and Manila clams steamed in white wine and Italian parsley basil pesto.
No, Falesitch reassured the group, they need not break out their serious wines for cooking. But they would need serious ingredients, like the fresh fava beans.
"Where do you get fava beans?" asked Westside hostess Sandra Moss.
"Gelson's!" "Pavilions!" "The farmer's market in Beverly Hills!" volunteered the class.
Baking in parchment paper (aluminum foil will also do, Falesitch said) prompted Spelling to ask Falesitch, "Have you ever cooked anything in a pig's bladder?" (He hadn't.)
Ninety minutes later, everyone sat down for Evian water and lunch. "Gorgeous!" people said when Falesitch's dishes were served.
Three courses later, Fay Mancuso sighed before taking off. "I'm going to Dino De Laurentiis' tonight for dinner. I'm in trouble."
Eclipse cooking classes, at $85 each, will be offered once a month.