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At Hotel Bel-Air, a Room With a View of the Chef

Restaurants: Table One is available for groups, with a special meal prepared by executive chef Gary Clauson.

November 29, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before the Hotel Bel-Air sunk $1 million into renovating the restaurant's kitchen, executive chef Gary Clauson submitted a wish list: an office larger than a closet and a chef's table in a private room looking onto the kitchen.

Wishes granted to the eight-year veteran of the Bel-Air.

His new office is bigger and Table One, a glass-enclosed sanctuary for foodies, makes most chef's tables (usually stashed in the kitchen corner) look like an afterthought.

Decorated in French country casual with place mats on the refectory-style pine table, it's the kind of place where guys might loosen their ties and women light up a cigar.

"I've had chef's tables before in open kitchens, but they limit what you can do due to the noise and fumes. Having a separate room gives an ambience," Clauson said.

Table One accommodates eight. A nine-foot picture window gives diners a ringside seat from which to watch the cooks at work. Open just over a month, Table One attracts mostly business types so far, Clauson says. But family reunions and anniversaries are filling the holiday calendar. Clauson will create a five-course menu (his ideas, not yours) for from $75 per person and upward, excluding wine. If you bring your own, corkage is $25 per bottle.

The chance to dream up a new menu with unusual ingredients psyches up the kitchen staff and gives Clauson a break from routine. "Not everyone will like monkfish cheeks, but that's the idea--to surprise people, show them something else."

Clauson introduces the courses and acts as the host. One of his desserts--an individual pear tart with vanilla ice cream--got raves from one party. The guests forced him to divulge a secret: how the crust remained miraculously crisp despite the melting ice cream.

"Sprinkle granulated sugar over the baking sheet, then place the shells on top. The oven's heat melts the sugar, caramelizing and sealing the bottom of the shells. It's a trick I learned from a cook's mistake."

* Table One, Hotel Bel-Air , 701 Stone Canyon Road, Los Angeles. Reservations: (310) 472-1211.

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Mars on the Menu: Ready for an intergalactic-themed dining experience? Fasten your seat belt. Chefs John Sedlar and Patrick Glennon have landed at LAX and are designing the menu for Encounter, the 165-seat restaurant under the arches at the Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building. Opening is set for Dec. 21.

The food, according to Sedlar, the consulting chef, will be futuristic, in keeping with the decor of lava lights, moonstone quarry walls and opalescent surfaces.

This project is the first time the chefs have worked together. "John and I can talk 10 hours about one plate," says the French-trained Glennon, 33, Encounter's chef de cuisine.

The concept is simple: "Fresh food with intense flavors. But presentation and garnishing will be extreme," Glennon explains.

Take the house dessert, for example. Chocolate Planetary Orbs With Saturn Rings sounds like something "Star Wars" director George Lucas would dream up. It turns out to be chocolate orbs filled with hazelnut mousse and ringed, like Saturn, with a cookie. The orbs are suspended in spun sugar.

Travelers need to keep an open mind, cautions Sedlar, when checking for departure times on the video monitor in the bar area. They're fictional "unless you're going to Mars."

*

Empire-Building: No rest for Nobu Matsuhisa, chef-owner of the always-mobbed Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. In February, he opens Nobu London in the Metropolitan Hotel, Hyde Park. Come April, he launches Nobu Next Door, literally next to his New York restaurant Nobu. He describes it as a 100-seat place "that will be less expensive, more casual and smaller. But not a noodle bar," he insists. Coming next October is a little spot in Tokyo. Nothing special, mind you. "Same thing. My cuisine."

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Chipped Cristal: Chef de cuisine Serge Burckel left Cristal (the former Ma Maison) at Hotel Sofitel last Wednesday, adding another wrinkle to the restaurant's troubled start. On the day of the gala opening Sept. 10, Burckel suffered a kitchen burn that sidelined him for nearly two weeks. When reached for comment, owner Jean Pierre Deleurme would only say, "Serge is on a leave of absence."

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On With the Show: After a 2 1/2-year run, Abiquiu has closed. But the Santa Monica space won't stay vacant for long. A supper club is going into the Fifth Street location. Called Rix, it will open sometime in February, according to Will Karges (Johnnie's New York Cafe Pizzeria and Jones Hollywood), who heads up a group of investors.

"Abiquiu's is a unique space and we want to take advantage of it, especially the patio area. The second level will be for music." The style will be that of a New York grill, like Tribeca or Odeon. Karges has already found a chef. "Not a celebrity, but someone from a notable restaurant."

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In the Works: A new owner is right around the corner for Le Chardonnay. "We're beyond the negotiation stage," says Maurice Constantin, prospective buyer of the 13-year-old restaurant at 8284 Melrose Ave. He and owners Robert Bigonnet and chef Claude Alrivy are just waiting for the go-ahead from Alcohol Beverage Control. "The deal should be done by the end of December." He's interviewing chefs both here and in Europe, but so far no one has been named.

Buying Le Chardonnay is a major career change for Constantin, food and beverage director of the Anaheim Hilton. He has no plans to change the bistro. "No revolution, just some rejuvenation. I like its style. It's comfortable, something I can live with."

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