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.