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Shrimp Dish Flavored by Concubine Lore

Specialty at Jasmine features two competing sauces--steeped in a 1,000-year-old Chinese tradition.


The newest specialty at Joe Yuan's Jasmine restaurants in Encino and Calabasas recalls an ancient tradition in China: the concubine.

With no apologies, the genial Yuan calls the dish concubine shrimp, and his idea hails from the days when a wealthy man in China boasted both a wife and a concubine--and showed his power by setting them to compete with each other to please his taste.

As Yuan presents it, the dish is essentially two servings of shrimp on one plate, each serving cooked and sauced differently to tantalize the diner.

Yuan enjoys explaining the dish to his customers--and checking to see which version gives them the greater pleasure.

"I was the son of government officials in China, and this gave me the unusual opportunity to sample a wide variety of Chinese cooking as my parents traveled," Yuan says.

"In China it was a 1,000-year tradition for a wife and a concubine to compete for the pleasure of the husband, and we recall this tradition in our restaurants for the pleasure of our guests."

Yuan founded Jasmine in Encino 11 years ago and expanded to Calabasas two years ago.

Jasmine is located at 17267 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 905-6555; and at 23683 Calabasas Road, Calabasas, (818) 222-1687.


Landmark Redux: Alexis and Fatima Kavvadias, owners of the eclectic Alexis Greek Restaurant in Northridge, have completed a major renovation, giving the restaurant a new look--and more room.

Alexis has occupied the same location for 24 years. The Northridge earthquake damaged the restaurant severely enough to close it down for 27 days, but even as they worked to reopen as quickly as possible, Alexis and Fatima saw the disruption as an opportunity to put their minds to a major overhaul of the restaurant's look.

Completed last summer, the renovation features lots of glass and water, including two interior fountains, and a new patio with tables under awnings.

The fare ranges over the Greek specialties of Alexis' heritage--lamb, beef, chicken and fish--but as pastry chef, Fatima brings her own knowledge of Portuguese dolces to the menu as well.

Alexis Greek Restaurant and Sidewalk Cafe is at 9034 Tampa Ave., Northridge, (818) 349-9689.


Secrets From the Kitchen: Tony Bellissimo, who runs Cafe Bellissimo in Thousand Oaks with his son Anthony and nephew Luigi Bordonaro, hosts another special cooking class for friends and patrons of the restaurant this month. Bellissimo draws students for the class by asking diners what they like on his menu and then offering to teach them to cook it.

The free class lasts two to three hours, at the end of which patrons sit down to enjoy their own handiwork--usually an appetizer, a pasta, an entree, a dessert.

Bellissimo hopes to schedule his next cooking class to coincide with the completion of construction of a new patio for the Thousand Oaks restaurant. The addition will expand capacity by 10 to 15 tables.

After that he plans to open the restaurant for lunch and Sunday brunch.

Cafe Bellissimo is at 105 Brazil St., Thousand Oaks, (805) 379-3811. Other members of Tony's big family run the original Cafe Bellissimo at 22458 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 225-0026.


Eat and Learn: Executive chef Greg Napier, who oversees the kitchens at Rive Gauche Cafe in Sherman Oaks and at Vincent Hill Station Restaurant and Saloon in Acton, hosts a wine tasting and gourmet meal in the banquet room of the Acton restaurant Friday.

The menu features six courses and six Fetzer wines, including special reserve Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages and a new white varietal, Viognier, bottled under Fetzer's Bonterra label.

Napier, working with winery reps--who will attend the dinner and discuss their wines--chose each bottle to complement the course served with it.

Lynn and Brady Watt, owners of both restaurants, recruited Napier to come to Southern California from Chicago not long ago. He studied at the Culinary School of the Kendall Colleges and cooked at the widely known Surf and Turf in Chicago before coming west.

Vincent Hill Station Restaurant and Saloon offers a menu ranging from Australian lobster to chicken piccata, grilled salmon, clams and crab cakes served on pasta.

Rive Gauche is a French restaurant with a traditional but health-conscious menu--read: sauces with no cream, soups flavored with vegetables and spices, and portions not so big as to make you head straight to the gym after dinner.

Vincent Hill Station Restaurant and Saloon is at 553 W. Sierra Highway, Acton, (805) 272-4799. Rive Gauche is at 14106 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 990-3573.


Privacy, Hollywood Style: Lisa Long's popular Barsac Brasserie in North Hollywood, which draws a big-name movie crowd from Disney, Universal and other studios in the neighborhood, recently overhauled her menu and added a special private room, seating up to 85 people.

The room has its own entrance for events like private dinners and wedding parties. It even closes up for private movie screenings--the Hollywood thing to do.

Long and her chef Louis Tinoco change their menu three or four times a year. Their current offerings range from a salad of grilled quail and quail eggs on watercress to rigatoni with shiitake mushrooms and red peppers. Entrees range from items such as striped bass served on steamed barley to a rack of veal.

Lisa met her husband, James Saliba, who hails from the island of Malta, and chef Tinoco 11 years ago when all three worked at Jimmy's in Beverly Hills. Barsac Brasserie is at 4212 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 760-7081.

Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying areas. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or by fax (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at 103254,

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