The Belle-Vue in Santa Monica has long been one of the old dependables on the L.A. restaurant scene--a sort of glorified coffee shop with a French accent, where pleasant veteran waitresses served ample portions of decent if uninspired bistro-style food at reasonable prices to a mixed clientele of local retired folk, punk-haired young artistic types, and Air France flight crews, among others. Opened originally in 1937, the restaurant was bought in 1963 by ex-chef Eddie Pilloni. In 1967, French-born Robert Lalli signed on as chef, remaining at his post until his retirement last year. After Pilloni's death in 1976, his son Louis and daughter Denise Banks took it over, and have continued to run it in the same spirit.
Now, though, there are changes afoot at the Belle-Vue. The restaurant is temporarily closed, and, with the help of consultants Richard Drapkin and Irv Siegel, Banks and Pilloni are updating the restaurant. They are quick to assure regulars that the changes won't be drastic. Minor redecoration is in progress--new fabrics on the banquettes, new tiles on the floor--and limited outdoor seating will be added on Ocean Avenue. The menu will evolve gradually, Pilloni says. French-style pizzas will be added, and traditional dishes (bouillabaisse, cassoulet) will be available daily. Prices will remain low, with lunch costing an estimated $10 per person, dinner about $18. Pascal Dropsey is the new chef, and maitre d'hotel Jean-Pierre Purro, from the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center in New York, will be in charge of the dining room. Reopening is expected by next week.
BISTRO BULLETIN: Robert Simon, co-founder of the late Cafe Jacoulet in Pasadena, has assembled a group of investors and is working on a new restaurant in the same community, to be called Bistro 45--after its address, 45 S. Mentor. The place occupies the site of the now-defunct Marianne, and the latter restaurant's longtime chef and co-owner, Georges Bardot, will remain on the site as Bistro 45's night manager and maitre d'. The chef will be 25-year-old Alexandre Couly, whose resume lists such prominent local restaurants as L'Orangerie, Le Meridien Hotel, Max au Triangle, and Noa Noa. "We're going after a cuisine," says Simon, "which for want of a better term we're calling 'California-French.' But that really isn't right. It really isn't a cuisine that you can compare to any other. We want to focus on what's fresh, what's on the lighter side. There'll be a very limited use of cream and butter, lots of fresh herbs and very bright flavors, vibrant spices without being spicy or hot. Although Alex is only 25, he's very serious about his work. He speaks of his work as art."
Simon promises a wine list with around 500 entries, priced just over twice wholesale (which is low by local standards), and reports that main dish dinner prices will range from $14 to $18.50. "We've also got a computer system," he says, "that lets us keep a record of our regular customers, so we know what they like and don't like. Then, when they come in, we can print out a card and give it to their waiter so he can take better care of them." Bistro 45 is scheduled to open by late November.