Like plenty of other Beverly Hills grande dames, the Beverly Hilton Hotel's L'Escoffier restaurant is going through a face lift and some other nips and tucks. Along with a refurbishing, Merv Griffin's French restaurant will be sporting two new key employees. There's a new maitre d' and the search is on for a new chef at the room that has long been known as the best place in town to take grandma for dinner and dancing.
Sources say hotel general manager Richard Cotter asked Patrick Healy, chef/owner of the late Champagne, to audition for the chef's job previously held by Phillipe Haddad.
"I didn't try out," says Healy, "I had breakfast with the gentleman." Healy, who is determined to open a place of his own, says he really wasn't interested and the discussions never even got around to money.
"Then they called me back a couple of times," says Healy, "and tried to change my mind--they said they'd brought Fernand on board."
That's maitre d' Fernand Poitras (although he doesn't use his last name), who's worked at such top dining establishments as L'Ermitage, Eureka and Opus.
The departure of Poitras from Opus, incidentally, means that Eberhard Mueller's elegant Santa Monica fish restaurant, open only five months, is now on its third maitre d'.
MORE HOTEL NEWS: Meanwhile over at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, executive chef Joe D. Cochran Jr. has told his staff he will be leaving. "I cried when I told my staff," he says, "I am going to miss them." Cochran and his wife, who also works for the hotel, will be relocating to La Jolla, where he eventually hopes to open his own place. "I have two kids and will have another next year, and I don't want to bring them up here," says Cochran, a native of West Virginia. Cochran says Loews management has already begun interviewing for his job. "I told them they should hire a female," he says. "That would be really cool for this place."
WOLF'S FOLKS: "This is the grandmother of all events," says Spago's Tom Kaplan of the American Wine & Food Festival. "We've got great corporate support and incredible private donations, but this year we are really nervous how ticket sales will go." Organized by the Wolfgang Puck Charitable Foundation, the benefit for Meals on Wheels will once again be held on Universal Studios' back lot. At $175 per ticket, Puck's glitzy event is a good deal for big eaters: It features more than 25 of America's best chefs and 60 of its best winemakers (they all donate their services). "We started in a parking lot 10 years ago," says Kaplan. "Now we've gotten so big that if we hit our goal, we will have paid for a million meals." For ticket information: (310) 652-3706.
MUTINY?: Haven't been to Le Pirate, the hip French bistro that opened on La Cienega last month? Sorry, you're too late. "When I called for a reservation the first time," says a local foodie, "the person that answered had a French accent, and said the chef was ill. So I called a week later. This time the person that answered had an American accent and told me the name had been changed to the Pirate; they would open in about 10 days . . . as a steakhouse."
STOCK POT: "We really wanted the locals to be able to use this restaurant," says a spokeswoman for the St. James Club. So the very exclusive, and very private, West Hollywood club (there are also branches in Paris, London and Antigua), now allows non-members to dine in its classy, California restaurant. . . . The Prawn Shop, which serves nothing but prawns, has opened across from the Improv in Santa Monica. . . . JW Marriott Hotel at Century City now serves traditional afternoon tea, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. daily. For $12.50, you get a choice of teas, assorted finger sandwiches, fresh scones with Devonshire cream, and various teacakes. . . . Sunday night, graze at La Veranda in Beverly Hills. Samplings, from $3 to $8, include salmon tartare with sweet onions and capers, rigatoni with roasted peppers and cucumber soup.
BARGAIN: The tamale bar at John Sedlar's Bikini restaurant in Santa Monica. There's chopped seafood in the bouillabaisse tamale. Olives, oregano and feta cheese in a Greek version. There's even a sweet tamale made with pineapple. And at $5 each, they make eating at one of the hippest (and priciest) places in town affordable.