In the Bogie-Bacall days, Hollywood celebs who hunkered down at the Brown Derby were satisfied with martinis, steaks, and an air kiss from Hedda Hopper. Today stars aren’t content merely to be part of a scene; they must own it, too. Ever since Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis opened the first Planet Hollywood in 1991 and showed the wisdom of having a restaurant in their portfolios, a growing number of L.A. eateries have been served up by people better known for their movie roles than for their dinner rolls. In the past year, a new wave of star-backed establishments has appeared around town. We waded in to test the waters at some of the most talked-about new spots. (Prices do not include wine, tax, or tip.)
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, L.A.
Owners/investors: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Ambiance: seaQuest, the Restaurant. This submarine-shaped sub shop surfacing in the middle of the Century City Shopping Center & Marketplace is a delicious visual pun. Frantic 300-seat, two-level dining room sports portholes, mechanical fish, flashing lights, and myriad watery special F/X.
Appropriate cocktail: Shirley Temple.
Cuisine: Twenty thousand leagues of submarine sandwiches.
Best dish: Tuscan steak sub, with rosemary, olive oil, and melted provolone.
Dinner for two: $25-$30.
The scene: Lunchtime crowd surreally divided between suits from nearby offices and tourists with kids. No reservations; hour-long waits at peak times. Submarine shtick can wear thin well before dessert for anyone over 10. Inevitable gift shop sells DIVE!-wear ($15-$20 T-shirts, $85 denim jackets). ”Your server can ring these items up for you and bring them directly to your table,” notes shop menu card.
Hipness quotient: 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
8800 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood
Owners/investors: Whoopi Goldberg, Joe Pesci, Steven Seagal, onetime O.J. Simpson attorney Howard Weitzman.
Ambiance: Located in former home of fabled celebrity chow house Morton’s. Completely remodeled interior features pink armchairs and mottled walls crowned by timbered ceiling. Huge Egyptianesque art overwhelms dining room.
Appropriate cocktail: Pellegrino and lime.
Cuisine: Mediterranean-Californian, or ”Cuisine of the Sun” in Eclipse-speak (warm wild-mushroom salad with dandelion greens); expensive wine list.
Best dish: Whole fish baked in fruitwood-burning oven.
Dinner for two: $60.
The scene: Service has starchy flourishes: disquieting platter of raw fish brought to table for inspection before preparation; snapper, boned tableside with spoons, mangled by flustered waiter.
Hipness quotient: 7.
7250 Melrose Avenue, L.A.
Owners/investors: Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Norm Nixon, Connie Stevens.
Ambiance: Southern gentility — mahogany shutters, dim lights. Intimate lounge with occasional jazz duos; high noise level.
Appropriate cocktail: Mint julep.
Cuisine: Well-prepared bayou fare; large portions.
Best dish: Catfish.
Dinner for two: $50.
The scene: One of the few upscale L.A. places with a racially mixed crowd. Otherwise friendly staff in unseemly haste to turn tables — drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert served and cleared in 40 minutes flat.
Hipness quotient: 6.