After 21 years, Marcheline (Mimi) Hebert will hand over her beloved Beverly Hills restaurant, Chez Helene, on Monday to an acclaimed young French chef. Gilles Epie and partner Jean Denoyer (of Le Colonial in West Hollywood, New York, Chicago--and soon San Francisco) will become the new owners of the cozy 65-seat restaurant on Beverly Drive.
"I've had eyes on it for a long time," says Epie, former executive chef of L'Orangerie. "I've dined there many times. It's a nice little place."
The diminutive French auberge set among a forest of office buildings in Beverly Hills is actually the restaurant's second location. The original Chez Helene started in Venice 24 years ago before moving in 1986.
Hebert will stay on for two weeks while Epie gets to know staff and customers.
"Gilles was the reason I could give it up. I've always admired him," Hebert says. "My restaurant will be in good hands. It's time for me to move on."
Regulars need not worry. The name will stay for a while. Nor is he scrapping the entire menu. "Mimi's food is good, especially her soups. Her style is traditional home French cooking."
He'll be cooking his own earthy, regional dishes. "In about two or three weeks I want to introduce some dishes of Provence, the kind I grew up with," says Epie, who earned a Michelin star as owner-chef of Miravile in Paris.
One dish he's hankering to make is salade Nicoise. "The ones around Los Angeles are mock versions. The French restaurants here seem afraid to introduce intense flavors--strong olive oils, anchovies, olives, herbs. What you get instead is French cooking with a California accent." His, he insists, will be the genuine article.
The prices will be more similar to those in everyday restaurants in Provence than L'Orangerie's.
"When people hear a big-name chef is taking over a restaurant, they assume the prices will go up. I don't want that. I want to serve simple fresh food and prefer customers come often instead of only for special occasions."
Meanwhile, Hebert is not exactly retiring. She's working on a cookbook, intends to travel to France, New York and Canada. She's also looking for a site for her next venture, Chez Mimi.
"I want something small, less demanding, about 50 seats. The location doesn't matter. Any place I fall in love with."
For a Good Cause: On March 13, more than 200 restaurants around Los Angeles will give a generous portion of their day's proceeds to benefit AIDS. With Dining Out for Life, Los Angeles joins other cities in raising money to help individuals with AIDS pay everyday expenses. For a list of participating restaurants, call (888) 313-STAR.
Modern English: No rest for out-of-town guests, especially if they own a toque. Todd English will be cooking dinner Tuesday at Pinot Bistro and Wednesday at Pinot at the Chronicle. The chef-owner of Olives in Boston and Figs restaurants, throughout Massachusetts, will create a four-course menu with recipes from his new cookbook, "The Olives Table." English, named best chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation in 1994, will also be doing cooking demonstrations at Macy's Pasadena on Wednesday.
* Pinot Bistro, 12969 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 990-0500. Pinot at the Chronicle, 897 Granite Drive, Pasadena, (818) 792-1179. $49.95 per person, food only.
My Way: That's the direction Agostino Sciandri will take when he opens Agostino in June.
The chef-restaurateur (Rosti and Toscano) signed a lease on the space formerly occupied by Cicada on Melrose near La Cienega. The menu he plans for the 100-seat restaurant will be a personal one.
"I'm from north of Tuscany, where the cuisine blends the cooking of Liguria, Tuscany and Parma." That translates as fish and vegetable soups, lots of squid, grilled meats, cured hams, Parmesan and pesto.
He's got plans for the building's pale yellow exterior, too. "The building is going to be renovated to look like a Tuscan inn, including new tiles on the roof.
"Agostino will be my own thing. With this place I'm the producer and director."
Overseeing the bean-counting will be Michael Gordon, his partner in Toscano in Brentwood and the casual Rosti takeouts.
Such a Deal: Restaurateur Amadeo Constantino digs into his Neapolitan roots for a Sunday family dinner special. Tables for four or more will groan with soup, salad, pasta or chicken, dessert, coffee and wine. From 5 to 9 p.m. $12.95 per person. Stoney Point Bar & Grill, 1460 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (818) 449-9715.