Michael Franks and Robert Bell opened Chez Melange in 1982, in the middle of a recession. Since then, the partners have also opened the restaurants Fino and Depot, Misto bakery and cafe and a deli, Chez Allez--all within 12 minutes of each other. Now the South Bay restaurant monopolists are planning their most ambitious project to date--a 9,000-square-foot restaurant-bakery in Hermosa Beach. The partners plan to serve "coastal cuisine," which they say is food of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Mexican coast.
The new place will be casual, lively--and cheaper, with an average dinner check of $10. "We are trying to make the South Bay recession-proof," Franks says. "We have had many offers to go into other areas, but we feel there is a loyalty factor that might start a backlash if we ever left."
And the name? Descanso, Spanish for rest or vacation . "The '60s in Hermosa Beach is where the action was," Franks says, "so there is still a lot of the hippie mentality there. We hope to give a little '60s back to the '90s."
A SHUT-AND-OPEN CASE: Last Saturday, Tryst, the eclectic 18-month-old restaurant from Mario Oliver (the man who gave us Vertigo, one of the rudest nightclubs of the '80s) folded. Six days and a quick paint job later, Locanda Veneta and Ca'Brea owners Jean-Louis DeMori (whose brother Silvio just closed Tuttobene on Fairfax), Antonio Tomassi and Jean-Paul Nataf reopened the space as Florian, named after a famous old Venetian cafe. Chef is Fabio Flagiello, who worked at Chianti on Melrose and before that Capri in our Venice. (Stefano Mazzi has replaced Flagiello at Chianti).
"The owner made us an offer we couldn't refuse," Nataf says, "plus we have all the stuff from Tuttobene, including the help."
MORE OPENINGS: From Jerry's Famous Deli comes Jerry's Famous Pizza in Sherman Oaks, where you can call your agent--there are telephones at each booth--and nosh on New York, Chicago or Italian-style pizza. . . . Bob Spivak has opened a fifth Daily Grill in the new Laurel Promenade in Studio City. . . . Spazzio, an Italian-Mediterranean restaurant, opened in Century City. Chef-partner is Fil Francois, formerly of the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. . . . Shane at Newport Beach is new, from the same people who own Shane Hidden on the Glen in Bel-Air. . . . And now there's a City Wok in Encino (the other is in Toluca Lake), where half-orders of everything from kung pao chicken to sweet-and-sour cod fillet are available.
RESTAURANT HOPPING: Good news for Il Giardino fans. Although the expensive Italian restaurant has closed so that property owner-entertainment kingpin David Geffen can build an office building on that space, chef Leonardo Curti and manager Adelmo Zarif can now be found at Cicada.
It was when chef-partner Jean Francois Meteigner left the Melrose Avenue restaurant that co-owner Stephanie Haymes considered changing the California-French menu. While some of Meteigner's signature dishes remain (osso buco and hearts of romaine and Belgium endive salad), the menu will also offer new pastas, risottos and salads.
FUTURE CHEFS: Even male chauvinist chefs can change. In 1975, three-star chef Paul Bocuse told the New York Times: "Women lack the instinct for great cooking. . . . They have one or two dishes they accomplish very well, but they are not innovators." Last Thursday, women made up 40% of the first graduating class of Ecole des Arts Culinaires et de l'Hotellerie, the cooking and hotel school Bocuse started earlier this year in Lyon.
"I was expecting a bunch of mediocre people," says an observer who helped judge final exams. "But I found the caliber of students and facility to be high. The graduation ceremony will prove to the world that the school was not just another Bocuse ego trip."
FOR THE RECORD: In last week's item about Patrick Healy and the Buffalo Club it was reported that Healy left his former restaurant, Champagne, to his ex-wife, Sophie Healy.
The corporation that was jointly owned by Patrick and Sophie Healy was forced to close Champagne, and Sophie Healy subsequently opened a new restaurant, Champagne Bis.