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The Big House

The new Cicada, on the site of the former Rex Il Ristorante in the Oviatt Building, offers more than twice the seating of its original digs.

June 05, 1997|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Really Big Show: The new downtown Cicada, which opened two weeks ago, seats 300 people, more than twice as many as the old Cicada on Melrose did. "It's like working in a hotel," owner Stephanie Taupin says with a laugh.

She and partner / general manager Adelmo Zarif leased the Rex Il Ristorante space in the Oviatt Building on South Olive Street last January. They retained the name Cicada (which her husband, songwriter Bernie Taupin, dreamed up five years ago for the original restaurant), "just because we're fond of it."

Renovation was nothing structural: some gold leaf on the ceiling, murals on the wall, new custom-made chairs and tables in the Art Deco style. None of Rex's stunning furnishings or artifacts were purchased from former owners Maureen Vincenti and her husband, the late Mauro Vincenti.

Rex's grand style has given way to more relaxed dining at lunch and fine dining in the evening. Lunch is geared for the downtown business crowd: simple homemade pastas, salads, fish and chicken. Taupin describes the menu as contemporary Northern Italian with a few eclectic twists. The new executive chef, Andrea Tranchero, was executive chef at Claudio Sedlar's restaurant in Milan.

Regulars of Valentino in Santa Monica and Coco Pazzo in Hollywood will recognize mai^tre d' Marlo Bellotti, an alumnus of both spots.

A bonus to customers looking for an unusual venue for private parties is Cicada's access to the penthouse on the 13th floor and rooftop. As at Rex, the bar on the mezzanine level opens at 5 p.m. with live piano music.

* Cicada, 617 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. (213) 655-5559. Hours: 11:15 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.; 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

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Lick the Layover: Move over, Starbucks. Having to kill some time at LAX is becoming less of a penance as Host Marriott Services continues to add restaurants with name recognition. Slated to open are El Cholo and Malibu Al's (both this month), Louise's Trattoria (August), Cheesecake Factory and an on-site microbrewery (name to be announced) in September.

Changing Hands: Fresh from a remodeling job is the Siamese Princess Ginger Grill, formerly the Siamese Princess on West 3rd Street. Partners Craig Powell and Chris Chapman hired New Yorker Marc Elliott as executive chef. Former owner and chef Victor Sodsook will stay on for a while as a consultant but he intends to devote more energy to marketing his food, beer and wine products. California wines and microbrews have been added to the menu. Though 60% of the menu items are contemporary Thai, Elliott has added some Italian, French and Latin American specialties.

* Siamese Princess Ginger Grill, 8048 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles. (213) 653-2643.

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At Your Door: Entertain at home without lifting more than a telephone. Jennifer Naylor, executive chef of Granita in Malibu, introduces three menus that can be packaged to go. With a 48-hour advance notice and six-person minimum, a barbecue, Mediterranean feast or clambake can be yours.

Among the dishes in the Summer Barbecue ($40 per person) is jalapen~o corn bread, barbecued chicken and "Peeky Toe" crab cole slaw. What? "Peeky Toe refers to a type of crab meat that's tender, sweet and comes from Maine," explains Naylor.

The inspiration for the Mediterranean Feast ($38 per person) was the year Naylor spent in Europe, traveling around France and working in Italy with chefs Gianfranco Vissani of Vissani in Umbria and Nadia Santini of Del Pescatore in Cannetto sul'Olio in Lombardy. "From Nadia I learned about gardening and raising livestock," she says. "Vissani taught me about regional ingredients."

The roots of her Malibu Clambake menu ($45) are closer to home: "It was inspired by the 4th of July barbecues at now-defunct Eureka [where she used to work]. The Maine lobster is part of my East Coast roots and the cherry-hazelnut crisp comes from my grandmother."

* Granita, 23725 W. Malibu Road, Malibu. (310) 456-0520.

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Countdown: For office workers in Hong Kong, the hand-over of the territory to China (June 30 at midnight) means five days of vacation. But for restaurateurs, it means more work.

"We compare it to another celebration like Chinese New Year or New Year's Eve or Christmas," says Karin Joffe, a Los Angeles-born caterer who runs five restaurants in Hong Kong's Central District.

Besides an estimated 8,400 foreign journalists expected to descend upon the territory, restaurateur-chef Wolfgang Puck will participate. He's been tapped to create a gala dinner at the Regent Hotel the evening before the hand-over.

Remaining in Los Angeles to nurture the Hong Kong spirit is executive chef Shigefumi Tachibe, of Chaya Brasserie on Alden Drive. He introduces some Hong Kong-inspired lunch and dinner entrees from his recent trip to the territory, beginning Tuesday 10 to Aug. 4.

"It has nothing to do with politics," he insists.

* Chaya Brasserie, 8741 Alden Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 859-8833.

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