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RESTAURANT NOTES

An Il Forno but With a Different Name

March 31, 1995|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joseph Suceveanu, the Romania-born restaurateur who founded Il Forno in Santa Monica, is opening a much larger version of the Italian trattoria in Beverly Hills. There's just one problem: It will have Il Forno food and Il Forno prices, but it won't be called Il Forno. "It's too confusing because Il Fornaio is a block away," says Suceveanu, who has taken over the former Bice space. "We are calling it On Canon Caffe & Trattoria. It sounds very American. 'Where are you eating tonight?' 'On Canon.' "

United Restaurants Inc. (the company that owns 20 or so Love's Wood Pit Barbecues) acquired an 85% stake in the Santa Monica Il Forno last year. Suceveanu got the title of president in the deal. "I decided the only way to expand, to be like a CPK (California Pizza Kitchen), was to get some financial power. This is our first unit. And we are already looking for other locations."

Suceveanu, who grew up near Milan, opened his first restaurant, Pamplemousse, in Las Vegas in 1974 with the late singer Bobby Darin. Suceveanu was the money behind Tulipe and now owns La Vecchia Cucina in Santa Monica, Tivoli Cafe in Pacific Palisades and five Il Fornos in Japan.

His latest venture, On Canon, will open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on April 10. Suceveanu plans to serve coffees, organic teas, antipasti, panini and desserts in the expanded bar area. "So if you come here in the afternoon, you can just have a panino and a cappuccino," he says, "and you won't have to spend a lot of money."

Meanwhile, the upper level is being turned into Havana, a members-only cigar room slated to debut in early May. Although the entire space is owned by United Restaurants, the two entities will be run separately. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Tia Carrera, Dennis Franz, Christy Swanson (who played Buffy the Vampire), Jason Priestly, Joey Pantoliano ("The Fugitive") and Uncle Miltie are among the celebs who already have reserved one of the 350 private humidors. "It's the Who's Who of Hollywood," says United Restaurant's Stanley Shuster, a cigar smoker who came up with the idea. "You know just about everybody smokes a cigar now."

Although it's open to members only, Shuster insists Havana is not a club. "We don't want to call ourselves a club, because a club is trendy," he says. "We aren't trendy. We aren't looking for the yuppie to pull up in his car. We are about cigars. We are looking for people who enjoy smoking cigars and enjoy privacy."

And who have money. The cost of renting a private humidor is a whopping $2,000 plus a $150-a-month "maintenance fee," which includes $50 worth of free cigars. And members get to ride upstairs in a private elevator.

Shuster says Bear Stearns & Co. and Oppenheimer & Co. have already contacted the company about opening corporate accounts, and several major hotels want to be able to send over important out-of-town guests. Even Barney's wants to do some kind of tie-in, he says.

"Most people aren't very cigar-friendly," Shuster says. "Now a cigar-smoker will be able to sit on the balcony and puff in an environment conducive to cigars. We've got a great location, a private elevator right up to the room, and he won't have to worry about the guy next to him making a face when he pulls out his cigar."

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Le Patio: Le Dome's Eddie Kerkhofs likes to enjoy a good cigar once in a while, also. That's why he's adding on a patio to the front of his popular West Hollywood restaurant.

"It's going to be a nice, European-style patio--not like the patios on Sunset Plaza where there's no separation between the street and the table," Kerkhofs explains. "You will be able to see people walking by but still be semi-protected."

Kerkhofs hopes to have the new addition completed by mid-June. "June 13th is my birthday, so it will be a nice little present to myself. I do love a good cigar."

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Jumbo Gumbo: The Kobbler King in West Hollywood now serves brunch on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Entrees include gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp creole, shrimp scampi and King's specialty. "It's something I made up," says owner Brian McMillan. "It's a chicken breast sauteed with bell peppers, green onions and then covered with a red sauce and some Monterey jack cheese. I serve it over fettuccine noodles." If it sounds like a lot of food, that's OK by McMillan. "I give large portions," he says. "Since I've been open, I've only had two people eat all the food on their plates. And then I was shocked."

As the name suggests, McMillan's specialty is cobblers: apple, peach, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry, chicken (the best seller), even a veggie cobbler. A peach cobbler for two costs $4; a larger version that feeds 20 to 25 is $20. McMillan also delivers. "I'll deliver anywhere. For instance, I'll even go to Inglewood, but it has to be for at least a $30 order."

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