"I am getting fed up with downtown," says Laurent Quenioux, chef/owner of the Seventh Street Bistro. "You pay $35 a square foot for what? On the Westside you can find space for $1, $2 a square foot. It's a good time to make some deals."
Quenioux has decided to deal: He's made an offer on L'Ermitage, the venerable La Cienega restaurant that closed its doors last year.
"A lot of people are scared to take it over," says Quenioux, "because for so long it was an institution where you ate really good food. Some people feel we won't do better than they did, but it doesn't worry me. "
Quenioux is thinking of calling his new place Ivory. "Ivory sounds rich," he says. "Everybody says high-end restaurants are out, but unfortunately there really aren't many left anymore . . . Rex, Patina, L'Orangerie and that's it."
The new menu will not be French. "Writing a menu in French . . . I think it is so pretentious. . . . These days, people would rather read everything in English. We are in America."
Quenioux plans to add an outside terrace to the existing restaurant and serve afternoon tea.
And if the deal doesn't go through? "We've talked with another Westside restaurant," he says, "and we haven't shut that down."
What about Seventh Street? For the moment, Quenioux plans to keep the 10-year-old downtown bistro open. "It's not really what I want to do," he admits. "Eventually . . . I don't know."
BITING BACK: Sylvio DeMori and Bob Morris have scrapped plans to open their 7,000-square-foot restaurant/gastronomie in the Courtyard Shops on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. "I dropped the deal," says DeMori, "because we were the first tenant, and the Courtyard Shops management asked me what other restaurant to have. I said maybe a Chin Chin, something different from our concept. Behind my back they made a deal with Broadway Deli. Michel (Richard, a partner in Broadway Deli) is my friend. I said to him, 'I do pasta, you do pasta. I do salad, you do salad. I do bread, you do bread.' Broadway Deli expects to serve 700 people a day, so do we, and I don't think the shopping center is capable of bringing in 1,400 a day."
Doane Liu, project manager and consultant to the Courtyard Shops of Encino, says that the Broadway Deli tenancy was never brought up during the negotiations with DeMori and Morris. "We negotiated for over a year," says Liu, "and never reached final terms. When it became apparent we were not making any progress, we went to what we thought was a much better alternative . . . Toscana."
So Terrazza Toscana will move into the space. Chef Agostino Sciandri and partners Kathie and Michael Gordon--who own the Westside Italian trattorias Toscana and Oli Ola--will open a combination of Toscana and Rosti, their take-away shop; if past experience is any guide, they will be selling a lot of pasta, salad and bread.
NOT OVER: Diana and Jacques Toulet, co-owners of Les Pyrenees on Santa Monica Boulevard, have decided not to close their restaurant after all--for now. "The man who was going to buy our restaurant came in at the last minute and tried to change everything," says Diana Toulet. "So right now everything is on hold." They had already sent cards with notification of the impending closure, which brought back a lot of old customers. Says Toulet, "Business has been great."
CLOSING: After only six months, El Porton Grill in Westwood. Brought to you by CIFRA, a Mexico-based company, this was the second American location (the first is still operating in Montebello). "They were told the shopping center where El Porton is located would be full," says a spokesman, "and it isn't. The place looks dead." Sources say attempts to tone the fiery menu down for Westside palates meant that some of the Montebello branch's best dishes (tacos with cream-tossed hot peppers, pork and hominy stew) were left off the menu. That may have been one reason why the restaurant never caught on.