Miki ZIVKOVIC, chef and owner of Burbank's bustling Bistro Provence, stands with his arms crossed, surveying the posh landscape of his new 250-seat restaurant and bar Third & Olive. He can't believe the place is his.
"This used to be Lasher's Steakhouse," he says, explaining that he bought the restaurant and everything in it -- including the James Bond bathroom posters and Reidel crystal glasses -- a month and a half ago. He changed almost nothing; he didn't have to. (Of the cursive "L" engraved in the heavy, frosted glass front doors, he says, "That stands for 'luxury.' ")
Tufted chocolate-colored banquettes, diamond-shaped mirrors, imposing walnut posts and coffered ceilings dominate the three dining areas and adjacent bar, where Zivkovic plans to put a grand piano. A striking blown-glass chandelier that appears to be made of a dozen tongues of twisted fire is suspended over the main entrance, which is delineated by walls of wine bottles in wrought-iron holders. "It's a little masculine," Zivkovic says. "But overall, I think it's gorgeous."
Clad in worn-out jeans, a white T-shirt and scuffed sneakers, Zivkovic -- who is from the former Yugoslavia and worked for years as the executive chef at Pinot Bistro -- chats up his customers before entering the soundproofed VIP room. There he explores drawers, pulling out Lasher's coasters and matchbooks ("I didn't know I had these! Do you want them?") and fumbling with unfamiliar light switches that he can't seem to make work ("I'm acting a bit like Peter Sellers!").
When it comes to his restaurants and his food, however, he is anything but comic. "I truly believe to be successful as a business, you don't have to create anything new," he says. "When someone orders braised meat, just braise it right."
Care and precision are the hallmarks of Zivkovic's cooking, and he expects the same high standards from his staff. When a plate of grilled salmon with truffle-scented rock shrimp potato puree and lobster sauce comes out, Zivkovic's critical eye notices a dollop of sauce that isn't where it should be. "See that drip of port reduction?" he says. "I don't think I'm going to kill [the chef] for that. How's the seasoning in your food? That's what's important."
It's hard to argue with that kind of thinking, especially when Zivkovic aims to turn Third & Olive into a boisterous neighborhood dining destination, much like Bistro Provence. "Joachim Splichal is a fantastic cook, but I don't want to be him," says Zivkovic. "I want to make comfort food for everyday people. I don't care about truffles; I'd rather give a customer a nice piece of fish than a little truffle from Alba."
This is an earnest assertion, but Zivkovic's food tells another story; one of buttery fennel-crusted ahi tuna, rich wild mushroom risotto, light-as-air mashed potatoes and crusty fresh-baked bread. When he unveils the Champagne cart that he is building himself, the classy charm factor of Third & Olive will almost certainly go through the roof and reservations will be harder to come by.
Zivkovic must know this, but he still plays coy. "I just want people to have a good feeling, a pleasant feeling," he insists with a grin. 250 E. Olive Ave., Burbank, (818) 846-3900.