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Bice Dice Basta! to Beverly Hills, Not to West Hollywood

August 29, 1993|KATHIE JENKINS

Bice restaurant ended its four-year roller-coaster run in its splashy Beverly Hills space early this morning.

"The way people in L.A. are . . .," manager Alessandro Balgera says with a sigh, then trails off. "This town is a very tough place to open restaurants."

Tough town or not, six weeks ago Bice owner Roberto Ruggeri opened Cafe Med, a new, more casual 150-seat offshoot of his Milan-based restaurant chain at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood.

"It's what people want," says Balgera.

Or maybe not. As a precursor to Bice, Ruggeri opened Bice Pomodoro--another casual Italian eatery--four years ago on the site of the old Bistango. The Adam Tihany-designed Pomodoro, which served silly things like grilled tomatoes with sliced almonds, closed after less than two months in business.

Then Bice swept into town to show L.A. what real Italian food was all about. The prices were high and the attitude was thick; L.A. became bored with Bice. That's when management brought in Patrick Clark.

At the time it seemed like a strange choice, since the high-profile Clark--who gained fame as chef at Odeon in downtown New York and then at his own Metro uptown--was famous for his modern American cooking, not pasta. Clark, however, worked miracles with the menu and Bice was praised for its wonderful food. Clark and Ruggeri parted company last year. "Bice is not a company I would like to stay with," said Clark at the time, who left to cook at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington.

Balgera says Clark's departure had nothing to do with Bice's demise. He adds that although the company recently closed its branches in Atlanta and Scottsdale, the Bices in Chicago, New York, Palm Beach and Washington "are doing very good."

"Actually, when Patrick was here, business was down," Balgera comments. "Then it went up and we floated a little. After the rumors started that we were going to close, it died."

*

86 THE RIBS: Also closing this morning is Stellini's, a former hangout for local sports figures and fans. According to Douglas Suarez, who has tended bar at the Beverly Hills restaurant since it opened 16 years ago, business had been down since February.

An evening at Stellini's wasn't complete without Joe Stellini's spareribs, made from a recipe he appropriated while he was maitre d' at the long-closed Luau in Beverly Hills.

*

SO LONG: Spago head chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo has departed Wolfgang Puck's 10-year-old West Hollywood restaurant. Joseph Manzare, who co-cooked with Kevin Ripley at Granita, Puck's Malibu restaurant, has taken over Kwaku-Dongo's duties. It's the second big Spago defection in a month: longtime Spago maitre d' Bernard Erpicum left Puck's celebrity hangout to open his own place, still in development, with Spago-trained chef Serge Falesitch (who is currently cooking at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe).

Meanwhile, Kwaku-Dongo, who comes from the Ivory Coast and worked at Remi in New York before he cooked at Spago, is set to take over executive chef duties at Mi Piace in Pasadena on Sept. 20. Kwaku-Dongo is currently vacationing in Africa and could not be reached for comment.

"The owners are looking for prestige," says one restaurateur who asked not to be named. "(Mi Piace) is very successful but the food is not what it should be."

Owners Takis Markoutsis (he's also the pastry chef) and Armen Shirvanian (his family made millions in garbage) are also negotiating to open a second Mi Piace on the Westside. Kwaku-Dongo will oversee that kitchen too. "The heart and soul of Mi Piace isn't going to change," says Shirvanian. "Francois is just going to bring his own interpretation into it."

*

OPENINGS: After several unsuccessful spinoffs--including ones in Beverly Hills and Encino--Chinatown's Mon Kee has opened a branch of its seafood restaurant on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. . . . A few blocks away, another Crocodile Cafe has opened on the site of the BelleVue restaurant. . . . Former L.A. Gourmet chef Mindy Lymperis has opened Gourmet Grub in the former Drew's space in Encino. The American menu features healthy salads, sandwiches, pastas.

* FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Laurie Ochoa's column has the day off.

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