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Valentino Hits the 'Top' at 25

Restaurant gets Gourmet magazine's premier award, an Italian rarity.


Val Rules. Valentino has just been voted "top table" in the Los Angeles area by Gourmet magazine's readers, beating out Patina, Matsuhisa, Hotel Bel-Air and L'Orangerie, the next four in line. Readers gave it high marks in food quality, presentation, wine list, ambience and service in the October issue, which hits the stands this week.

The only other metropolitan area to award top honors to an Italian restaurant in this survey was Minneapolis-St. Paul. Most of the other first-place winners around the country served French or American cuisine. Owner Piero Selvaggio comments, "I'm glad that I am a voice in the desert in Italian food, which doesn't get respected as fine dining." (Well, maybe not outside L.A., but as we all know, Italian cuisine rules this town.) Selvaggio credited chef Angelo Auriana and the rest of his staff for the award.

Perhaps an even greater award, in our city of ephemeral restaurants, is simple longevity. Valentino is celebrating its silver anniversary this year.

Another of Geri's Kids. Venice restaurateur Geri Gilliland (Gilliland's, Jake and Annie's, Lula's) is opening still another place. Like her other restaurants, she says, this one sort of came as a surprise. Gilliland and her husband were in the bank one day, conducting mundane banking business. She excused herself for a moment and when she returned she found him surrounded by suits, saying, "Oh yes, we'd be very interested." It turned out the bank had just foreclosed on the property of the long-dark Black Whale in Marina del Rey.

Gilliland's plan for the space is to turn it into a bar and grill. Its main feature will be a wood broiler for indulging in her latest food obsession, Santa Maria-style barbecue. She became enthralled with this style of cooking when she bought her new home, which had a wood-burning grill on the back patio. "You'll never taste anything like it," she enthuses.

In addition to the grilled meats, flavored with Santa Maria-style mops and rubs, the Washington Street Bar and Grill will serve pastas, salads and "really interesting appetizers." A full bar, too. Look for it to open in the November time frame.

Will This French Fad Fly? Chef Kazuto Matsusaka (formerly of Chinois, founding chef of Zenzero) is back from Paris, where he was chef at Barfly and Budda Bar, two restaurants that incorporate live deejays with dining--but no dancing. Apparently, you just wiggle around in your seat to the funky beat as you eat. This concept works big time in Paris, so the French owners are opening two sister restaurants in L.A. with the same names as their Parisian counterparts.

Barfly will be the first to open, at 8730 Sunset Blvd. in L.A., sometime in November. Chef Kazuto will serve steaks, grilled fish, pasta, pizzas and sandwiches. ("Nothing fancy," he says, "but we like to put a little twist to it.") There will be a sushi bar as well. As for the deejay, he's supposed to walk around the room assessing the mood of the diners so he can play to them. Usually, Kazuto tells us, "As the night gets older, the music gets louder."

This Barfly will be decorated with hardwood floors and brightly colored velvets to resemble the Paris original. A statue with wings is being shipped over, too. No one at the L.A. location could actually identify the thing, but it sounds a whole lot like the Nike of Samothrace. Either that or a giant fly, we suppose.

Molina Makes His Move. Pasadena's Parkway Grill and Arroyo Chop House have just lost chef Hugo Molina; his last day at the Grill was Wednesday. Molina is leaving to open his very own restaurant, Hugo Molina, not so very far away at 1065 E. Green St., Pasadena. "It was time for me to do my very own thing," he says. His own thing will be California cuisine with a Latino flair.

Hugo Molina is scheduled to open on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, no replacement has been found for him at the Parkway Grill or the Chop House. At the Grill, sous chefs Andy Brooks and Carlos Escalante will take over until a full-time replacement is found.

And Speaking of Leaving. Chef Andre Lechien left Book Soup Bistro on the Strip Sept. 7. The reason was the traditional one given by splitsville rock bands ("creative differences"). Manager Michael Hennessy reassures us that the menu will remain the same, because B. Soup has purchased the rights to Lechien's recipes. Sous chef Rigo Ramirez will stay in that position; the bistro is interviewing for the position of chef.

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