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Mauro Vincenti, Battling to Feed Homeless


Two years ago, shortly after the riots, Mauro Vincenti tried to put together a huge food festival in Central Los Angeles. He wanted to use the profits to build a town square where people could meet and talk, something the Romans have been doing for 3,000 years. He was very close to pulling if off when one of the major sponsors withdrew at the last minute. The Roman-born restaurateur, who owns Rex il Ristorante downtown and Alto Palato in West Hollywood, now has a new agenda: feeding the homeless. He wants to buy refrigerated vans to pick up leftover food from restaurants all over the city.

Vincenti, who does nothing by half-measures, has persuaded 12 of Italy's top chefs to come and cook to raise money for the project. "If I sell enough tickets," he says, "I can buy four vans, one for each direction, and we'll have the whole town covered. We have to do something good for the city. This thing that we are all mean to each other is going nowhere."

Le Donne (The Women), a benefit for Charge Against Hunger, a nonprofit source of funds for hunger relief, will be held at Vincenti's elegant downtown restaurant on Nov. 19 and 20. A formal 12-course prix fixe menu on Saturday night will include a course prepared by each participating chef. On Sunday afternoon things will liven up. Along with an elaborate buffet featuring dishes from each region of Italy, the USC Marching Band will perform.

Thanks to corporate sponsors and the Italian Trade Commission, the event is expected to raise $100,000. Tickets are $150 for the dinner and $100 for the buffet.

Rex's chef Odette Fada will be coordinating the event. Chefs flying in from Italy include Irma Pierantozzi and Lisa Boni from Da Piperno in Rome's Jewish quarter; Franca Franceschini from Romano in Viareggio, a Tuscan restaurant known for outstanding seafood; Federica Suban (Antica Trattoria Suban, Trieste); and Gabriella Cattaneo (Villa Greta, Bergamo).

Martha Pullini from Mad.61 in New York is also flying in. Pullini, who once owned a restaurant in Modena and is friendly with many of the chefs, invited herself. "I told Martha she could come," says Vincenti, "but she is forbidden to talk about (Mad.61 owner) Pino Luongo. I don't want to hear his name." Luongo, who also owns Piccola Cucina in South Coast Plaza and Le Madri and Coco Pazzo, two of New York's best Italian restaurants, made plenty of enemies when he bad-mouthed his competition in New York magazine earlier this year. "But Martha's real good," Vincenti says. "I asked her to do her tortellini in the pastry shell."

As good as they are, Vincenti has already been criticized for an all-women roster. "I think men have enough events they cover," he says. "These are some of my favorite chefs and I believe in them."

The Name Game: If Xiomara Ardolina had to do it all over again, she would probably name her Pasadena French bistro something else. Imagine calling directory information for the number in order to make a reservation at Xiomara (pronounced see-o-ma-ra ) . "Are you spelling that with an s or a c or a z ?" asked a frustrated operator recently.

Ideally, a restaurant's name should be easy to spell and easy to pronounce. It's probably not a terrific idea to name it after anything too unappetizing either, like bugs or sun-dried tomatoes. Or after chefs, who do tend to move around a lot.

When Hans Rockenwagner and the Kimpton Group parted company after a year, the hotel management company was stuck with a restaurant named for its consulting chef. But how long can you operate a restaurant named for a chef who is no longer around? Now, owner Bill Kimpton has gone and changed the name of the space, located in the Beverly Prescott Hotel, from Rox to Sylvie--after a new employee.

"The name change coincides with the newly formed partnership between the restaurant and celebrated sommelier Sylvie Darr," announced a recent press release.

Name a restaurant after its sommelier? Is this a new trend? Hardly. Very few restaurants even have sommeliers. "The idea is very European," explains Darr, who previously acted as maitre d'/ sommelier/manager at the busy Zuni Cafe & Grill in San Francisco and was often spotted whizzing around town on a big green motorcycle. "A lot of maitre d's in Europe have restaurants named after them. And since I'm also the maitre d' here and since I'm from France, it kind of made sense."

Darr has no financial stake in the restaurant, even though it bears her name. "It's a partnership in terms of creation and my contribution," she says.

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