Reach out, way out, and toast someone

TO celebrate his brother’s recent marriage, Santa Monica resident Ravinder Singh recently got together with about 200 of his nearest and dearest, half in Southern California and the rest in India. While revelers here savored a dinner of chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, basmati rice and naan, the party-goers in India enjoyed breakfast. The two groups were united by a voice-activated video-conferencing system linking Fullerton’s Sitar Authentic Indian Cuisine with its sister restaurant Haveli in Hyderabad.

“I feel like I am going to India,” Singh says of the experience. “They feel like they are coming to America. All my friends there say hi.”

Since Sitar opened five months ago, half a dozen or so parties have taken advantage of the celebrate-on-two-continents service. The technology is often used at big convention hotels, but it’s a rarity in restaurants. Sitar owner Timothy Prakash, who says he has about $60,000 invested in the system, was already in the video-conference business in India, albeit in a different niche. He operates a company there that provides the video service between prisons and courts so that dangerous prisoners do not have to be transported to court. In expanding to the restaurant party market, Prakash had the right connections, literally and figuratively speaking.

“Every video-conferencing is new to us,” Prakash says. “People cry and they are really touched.”

Not every restaurant can serve up such sentiment with their lamb biryani.


-- Leslee Komaiko

A Michelin find: food in California

INSPECTORS have hit the streets of San Francisco and they’re wearing out some tires: Michelin examiners have anonymously scrutinized restaurants not only in the city but also in Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose and the Napa and Sonoma valleys researching for the company’s first West Coast guide, scheduled for release in October.

The San Francisco and the Bay Area restaurant and hotel guide is the second in a series of planned Michelin red guides to North American cities projected for annual release over the next several years. The Michelin Guide to New York City was published in November. And L.A.?

“After we released the New York guide, we knew we had to go west. We considered Los Angeles, but chose San Francisco for its gastronomic heritage and culinary history,” said Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide. “Los Angeles is definitely on our list along with Washington, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. We have been able to train some American inspectors so we hope to be able to release at least two guides in 2007. One of those cities could be Los Angeles.”

Um, yeah.

-- Cindy Dorn

Small bites

* The team behind Koi has opened Bridge in the old Alto Palato space. Chef Mirko Paderno, ex of Dolce on Melrose, is cooking Italian dishes such as grilled branzino with sauteed artichokes and bistecca fiorentina with rapini and roasted potatoes. The sommelier is Alessandro Sbrendola, previously wine director at Enoteca Drago.

Bridge, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 659-3535.

* Shari Robins, formerly chef at James Beach and sister restaurant Canal Club, has opened Robins Nest Quality Convenience Market just down the street from those eateries in Venice. Robins describes the concept as “if Whole Foods opened a 7-Eleven.” So in addition to more familiar convenience-mart staples, she carries Petrossian smoked salmon and Kenter Canyon Farms lettuces. She also stocks items from local chefs, such as Giorgio Baldi’s pasta sauce. Soon, look for homemade tofu on Fridays from Mori Onodera of Mori Sushi.

Robins Nest, 68 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 821-7281.

* After several delays, Social Hollywood, from restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, who was featured as himself on the reality show “The Restaurant,” is slated to open this month in the old Hollywood Athletic Club space. Social features a Moroccan-inspired interior. But the cuisine, from chef Joseph Ojeda, who jumped ship from Chodorow’s Asia de Cuba on the Sunset Strip, is billed as global.

Social Hollywood, 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 462-5222.