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Restaurant Notes : Opus in Water Garden Closes Doors on Low Note

August 12, 1994|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After two and a half years, Opus restaurant in Santa Monica has closed.

"We bent over backwards to make this place work," says Charles Almond, the managing partner. "We had just started to break even and most likely would have turned the restaurant around."

When the expensive, grown-up French seafood restaurant first opened, it was patterned after New York's celebrated Le Bernardin. The Manhattan restaurant's former chef, Eberhard Mueller, proclaimed he was going to use the same products, ingredients and suppliers as he did in New York. He even brought some of his kitchen staff and recipes when he came out West, including the famous hand-pounded carpaccio of tuna.

But despite its much-hyped arrival, Opus never really took off. Located in Santa Monica's huge Water Garden, the brand-new office building, bewildered customers wandered around the complex wondering if the had the right address. Six months later chef Mueller left under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

"We never meant to be some kind of an elitist restaurant that was out of touch with everybody," Almond told Calendar at that time. The sleek, curvy restaurant got friendlier; the food better, cheaper--and meatier. Still, the place somehow never really flourished at the Water Garden.

Almond, who is busy trying to find jobs for his loyal employees, remains philosophical about the situation. "In a business where 85% fail in the first five years, I guess we just didn't get on the right side of the numbers game."

Almond said the final straw came when the partners attempted to renegotiate the lease. Water Garden management did not return Calendar's phone calls for comment.

Another Closure: Desperados Hollywood Cantina & Cafe on Melrose has closed after a 90-day run, despite the owners' desperate steps to hype their Rosarita Beach-style cantina. When they first opened the upstairs cafe, they sent out "Desperado girls" in cowboy boots and scanty costumes to stroll up and down Melrose Avenue passing out menus and souvenir key chains. The advertising gimmick apparently didn't work. Or maybe the locals were just too lazy to climb the stairs to see what all the hullabaloo was about.

Buffalo-ing: The exclusive, ultra-luxurious Buffalo Club, the creation of screenwriter Anthony Yerkovich, is finally on the verge of opening. Not only has the high-end sound system already been installed, but the glassware and china have also been selected, says our source. And the notoriously secretive Yerkovich has approved the menu submitted by consulting chef Patrick Healy, who is executive chef at Xiomara in Pasadena. Healy's American-style menu for the rustic-themed Santa Monica restaurant will feature macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie and buffalo wings--no doubt with a Healy twist.

According to our source, Yerkovich, who created the TV series "Miami Vice," was inspired to build the exclusive club as a cozier alternative to the new and bigger Morton's. Yerkovich was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Healy also declined comment. When we telephoned the club, manager Tom Kane was on a ladder touching up the paint. "It's Tony's deal," said Kane, refusing to confirm anything. "He has the whole master plan."

Chef Abroad: Ralf Marhencke was one of the first to cook purple potatoes way back when Kenji Seki ran the now-defunct Noa Noa. He then moved on to Mario Oliver's Tryst until last year, when that trendy venue closed. He's now left the country and is cooking at the luxurious 60-room Hotel Rafael in Munich.

Turkey Lurkey: Stan Levine, who owns Chicken Factory & More restaurants in Torrance and Manhattan Beach, has developed the "roast turkey steak." According to Levine, the eight-ounce, 100% turkey steak tastes like a cross between turkey and pork, yet it contains only 1% fat. Instead of being flaked or formed, it has the texture of steak, so he says. At Chicken Factory & More, the $7.49 roast turkey steak dinner includes salad, potato and a biscuit. "(Roast turkey steak) is unique to our restaurant so far," the culinary innovator says, "but the item is so delicious, you'll probably see it in other restaurants by the end of the year."

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