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Beverly Hills’ ObaChine Just the Beginning

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There’s no rest for Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff. The first installment of “Wolf and Barbara in Beverly Hills” will be ObaChine, their Asian cafe, which opens in late September or early October. It will feature Puck’s variations on dishes from Malaysia, India, China, Korea, Japan and Thailand. The couple plans to multiply the concept, opening another ObaChine in the Meridian, Seattle’s new downtown development, in November, with more of the Asian cafes planned for around the country.

Taking over the former Tribeca on Beverly Drive, the super-casual 200-seat restaurant will showcase its hit parade of Asian dishes from two kitchens--a three-sided exhibition kitchen and a satay bar where customers can interact directly with the chefs. Puck hopes that serving everything family-style will encourage sharing dishes like Peking duck smoked in tea leaves, wok-roasted clams with Thai sweet basil, or jasmine rice pudding, and banana and sweet bean tempura.

To decorate the interior, Lazaroff has gone shopping for eccentric treasures in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand--which may be why they’re planning to open a number of ObaChines.

Meanwhile, Spago is on the market for $1.2 million. Construction and renovation of its new space--formerly occupied by Bistro Garden--at 176 N. Canon Drive will begin in early September. The new 180-seat Spago Beverly Hills is slated to open early next year. The new chef is yet to be named. Meanwhile, Spago chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo is touring the kitchens of France and Italy. When he returns he’ll head for Illinois where he’ll be in charge of the kitchen at Spago Chicago, set to open in November.

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“Spago Beverly Hills will be an adult restaurant,” Lazaroff says, “the kind with carved wooden chairs for grown-ups. It will be fine dining, but with a sense of fun, energy and elegance. Nothing staid.”

She’s spent months redesigning the old Bistro Garden and hopes to create an “infinitely more beautiful space” with fountains, exotic plantings and a design scheme that maximizes natural light and creates a flow between the garden and the indoors. Unlike its predecessor, the new restaurant will serve lunch as well as dinner. “Getting this site was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Lazaroff says with a sigh.

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Fate Unknown: With seven months to go on the lease and the fate of the Oviatt Building unclear (insiders say that prospective buyers want to turn the downtown architectural landmark into a jewelry mart), Rex’s Mauro Vincenti has a lot on his plate--and a guest in the kitchen.

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The latest in Rex’s series of Great Guest Chefs is Vincenti’s former partner, two-star chef Michel Rostang of Michel Rostang in Paris. In the late ‘80s, Vincenti convinced Rostang and three friends (all chefs from France) to open the now-defunct Fennel in Santa Monica.

Rostang is flying over to cook dinner at Rex on Aug. 23 and 24. His opulent menu includes warm carpaccio of lobster, sauteed duck liver flavored with mocha and pepper, sauteed filet of red snapper with buckwheat risotto, roasted Bresse chicken stuffed with wild mushrooms, mashed potatoes and grilled hazelnuts, a warm bitter chocolate tart and an Armagnac mousse. The cost is $80 per person.

* Rex Il Ristorante, 617 S. Olive St., Los Angeles; (213) 627-2300. Reservations are essential.

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Sorry, Bruce: Fans of chef Kazuto Matsusaka, formerly of Zenzero and Chinois on Main, can catch up with him in Paris where he is preparing for the Sept. 2 launch of Buda Bar, his California/Asia-inspired bar and restaurant located near the U.S. Embassy. His other project, a restaurant in Bangkok (yet unnamed), will debut by the end of the year. Juggling two major projects and close deadlines forced him to withdraw from a Santa Monica restaurant project with Bruce Marder.

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Reel Food: What do you serve with cinema classics? The chefs of Prego Ristorante in Irvine let their Festival del Cinema dictate. The next dinner-film evening is Tuesday at 6 p.m. The film, “Ciao Professore,” will be accompanied by a three-course meal. A crab cake with a spicy bell pepper sauce comes before the titles, followed by the entree--fantasia di pesci (an array of seafood and shellfish, white wine and herbs). The sweet finale is chocolate mocha cake and vanilla bean ice cream. And a cappuccino. The idea for the menu comes from one of the characters: He’s an ice cream maker.

* Prego Ristorante, 18420 Von Karman Ave., Irvine; (714) 553-1333. $30 per person.

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Pooling Resources: Sunset provides the backdrop for the Saturday lobster cookouts at the Calypso Cafe in the Sutton Place Hotel, Newport Beach. The poolside affair includes Calypso-style entertainment, two-pound grilled Maine lobsters, baked potato, corn-on-the-cob, Caesar salad and a dessert buffet for $32 per person. Children’s menu available.

* The Sutton Place Hotel, 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach; (714) 476-2001.

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Flashback: Pinot at the Chronicle has nothing to do with newspapers in San Francisco. With due respect to the Chronicle, a former 20-year-old dining institution in Pasadena, restaurateur Joachim Splichal maintains the name and site at 897 Granite Drive, including many of the keepsake photos of old Pasadena, once the property of retired owner Lew Renick. Scheduled to open at the end of September, the restaurant will have bistro fare, cozy booths, wood paneling and murals by artist Hollis Rhodes.

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Hello, Goodbye: Crustacean, a Vietnamese restaurant from San Francisco, is opening a clone in Beverly Hills in November at 9649 Little Santa Monica Blvd. . . . Watch for Monsoon Cafe to open on the Third Street Promenade by the end of October. The Tokyo Monsoon Cafe was opened four years ago by Japanese tycoon Kozo Hasegawa (who also created La Boheme in West Hollywood). . . . Three-hundred seats plus a reported monthly rent of $13,000 is forcing restaurateur Ruth Lam and partner to close Indochine Bistro on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica at the end of the month.

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Bay Area Move: After nearly six years as chef of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, Gary Danko, who in 1995 was voted James Beard Best Regional Chef for California, leaves in September. On his agenda is finishing a cookbook, finding a site for a restaurant in the Bay Area and taking some vacation. Replacing him is Sylvain Portay, formerly chef de cuisine at Le Cirque in New York. An alumnus of Alain Ducasse’s three-star Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, the 35-year-old Frenchman is no stranger to California. In 1987, he worked at Antoine’s in the Meridien Hotel, Newport Beach.

* Starting today, Restaurant Notes will alternate with First Impressions in this space.


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