What if you threw a party and no one came? That's how restaurateurs must have felt this year. Splashy openings were far and few between, business was still down and, after the earthquake, staying at home was more appealing than ever. Even the restless chef Robert Gadsby only switched kitchens twice. And when people did begin to venture out, they stuck with pasta, pizza, pasta, pizza.
Still, a few people managed to lighten things up. Visa persuaded Wolfgang Puck to forsake American Express at Spago and Granita and he reportedly got $1 million for his well-advertised defection; mogul Marvin Davis threw in the towel and closed his Carnegie Deli about the same time New York's Barney Greengrass moved into town.
And Hollywood got into the act too. Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg debuted Dive!, the first of a soon-to-be series of submarine-themed restaurants, in Century City; Kevin and Cindy Costner teamed up with Michael Roberts and opened the giant, tented Twin Palms in Pasadena (who gets it in the divorce settlement?), and B.B. King brought blues and bad (you decide which meaning) barbecue to Universal CityWalk.
And, perhaps representing some greater meaning, the venerable Chasen's--a Beverly Boulevard landmark for 58 years--will close April 1 to be replaced by a shopping center, it was announced this week.
Columbia Bar & Grill in Hollywood
Mario's Cooking for Friends
Ciao Chow Express
Rox became Sylvie.
Bikini became Abiquiu.
555 East became Dominick's East Village.
Citrus developed a new alter ego, Citrus Bar Bistro.
Shrimp enchilada eclair, a savory Parmesan puff pastry filled with tender shrimps and melted cheeses in a \o7 guajilla \f7 chile sauce (Tampico & Tilly's).
New Mexican sushi of New England lobster with habanero rice and Japanese cucumber salad (Abiquiu).
Ty Cobb, crispy duck on a warm spinach salad with the traditional toppings of cobb salad made in Thailand (Vida).
Herb fettuccine tossed in wild mushroom-ginger-chile-miso sauce, garnished with yellow bell peppers and green beans and topped with lightly breaded, Japanese spiced, whole deep-fried soft-shelled crab (Parkway Grill).
Rack of lamb with Oriental ratatouille and sweet potato daikon cake (Pangaea).
Alaskan halibut oven roasted with Dungeness crab and Brie cheese (McCormick & Schmick's--The Fish House).
ONLY IN 1994
Best news: L.A. airport commissioners voted not to renew Host Marriott's contract after 34 years.
Most anticipated opening: Eclipse.
The longest goodby: Nicky Blair's five-month farewell.
Fastest backpedal: "L.A.'s EKG registers flat" (French consul-general Jean-Maurice Ripert insists he was misquoted in the French magazine Figaro Madame when talking about life in Los Angeles).
Souvenir menus, anyone?: Dive! $5, Country Star $15 (but it lights up).
Most flops: BG's short-order souffles.
Windfall PR: Mezzaluna in Brentwood.
Dumbest move: Morton's from one side of Robertson to the other.
Most forgettable restaurant name: Capoccione Itameshi-Ya.
Puppy patio dining
Private restaurant newsletters
Individual coffee press pots
Designer staff uniforms
Beepers to signal when your table is ready
Chilean sea bass
It was a smashing year: The Northridge earthquake revised wine lists all over town. Most disheartening image: the river of wine flowing down Valentino's driveway.
New Age restaurant insurance (for harmonious success): Dial-a-\o7 Feng Shui.\f7
Fastest about-face: Descanso changed from cutting-edge Caribbean to family-friendly eclectic.
Pilgrimage to Brentwood: Countless flock to Gratis for the fat-free triple-layer chocolate cake.
Three-course ($12) lunch at Xiomara.
Salt cod & mashed potato \o7 brandade \f7 at Twin Palms ($3)--cheaper than the valet parking.
Pasta with zucchini ($6.50) at Alto Palato.
$1 dinner salads (Cafe Bizou, Out Take Cafe).
50-cent egg cream at Barney Greengrass.
$2.50 gingerbread at Basix.
THE FINE PRINT
Copywriter wanted: "To share a more passionate and satisfying experience with a group of friends, you'd pretty much have to get naked" (ad for Dominick's East Village "Italian food to die for").
Awwwwwwwwwww: Pasta at Provencia is "created with love every day."
Talk's cheap: "Gratis: fat-free cuisine. Because you wouldn't know if we didn't say it. That's right, delicious food that just happens to be fat free."
That's life: "On our cover letter we stated that Vida means \o7 life \f7 in Japanese. In fact it means \o7 life \f7 in Spanish." (from a press release)