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Splitsville 

As the tables turn

Wednesday, Aug 7 2002
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As the Tables Turn

Here‘s a bit of culinary news: One of the most serendipitous partnerships in recent L.A. restaurant history has been dissolved. Veteran restaurateur Silvio De Mori and accomplished French chef Jean Pierre Bosc, who together launched the elegant, relaxed bistro Mimosa in 1997, have parted ways. Bosc remains at Mimosa, where he has reconfigured the menu, and De Mori has headed west into Beverly Hills, where he has opened a sprawling midpriced Italian cafe in a cursed location.

The split has been described by both sides as amicable, although it clearly has not taken place without a certain strain. Indeed, both parties, in their respective locations, seem a little shell-shocked -- not only from the breakup of the old, but also, I suspect, from the new realities each faces.

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At Mimosa, Bosc attempts a juggling act. To placate regulars, he retains the greatest hits of the original menu: leeks vinaigrette, tomato tart tatin, a sterling macaroni and cheese, hangar steak frites, veal daube, cassoulet. To stretch himself a bit and, potentially, attract a whole new following, Bosc is supplementing the tried and true with his ”Mimosa Maintenant“ menu, a rotating series of earthy bistro dishes he mastered as a young chef in France and now re-creates in his own matured style.

The ”Maintenant“ menu reads like a bistro fairy tale: skate with brown butter, veal sweetbreads, quail stuffed with chestnuts and foie gras. Some dishes are offered nowhere else in Los Angeles, such as baton de guignol (beef tripe fritters), pork cheek and ear ”en cocotte,“ veal onglet, grilled whole pork trotter and chicken liver gateau. This hearty, elemental food can conjure rosemary baking in the sun-scorched hills, put a dark-blue Mediterranean glint in your dinner companion’s eye; the full flavors and textures are apt to distract the brain from its ditherings and make eating itself a pleasurable, in-the-moment, physical act. It remains to be seen, however, if Los Angeles diners are up for such brash gastronomic sensuality.

”Maintenant“ dishes can be ordered a la carte or in a three-course prix fixe dinner at $35 per person, a fair price. Some items are perfect: a terrine of roasted red and yellow peppers and marinated, mild fresh anchovies is as pretty and sexy and tasty as an appetizer gets. Bosc‘s house-made head cheese, of meaty pork cheek and compellingly crunchy cartilaginous pork ear, is served in thin slices with velvety coco beans and a sharp mustard vinaigrette -- superb overall. The fig tart with fourme d’ambert bleu cheese suffers, but does not fail, from an excess of cheese (the warm, globby, slightly elastic and rich cheese almost overwhelms the hot, juicy, seed-rich fig) but, hey, we get the point; and we can‘t get the dish, however unbalanced, out of our mind.

A bowl of lovely, tiny cheese-and-herb-stuffed ravioli in a mild, fragrant chicken chervil broth is more innocent in its pleasures -- a nursery comfort food appealing to children and adults alike. An aioli-rich seafood bourride bursting with fresh, sweet monk and scorpion fish, scallops and shrimp is an impeccable rendering of a classic.

But there are missteps, too. A generous serving of duck foie gras is grievously overcooked, as is an entree portion of crispy soft-shell crabs. If these dishes had composed my first meal at Mimosa, I probably would not have returned. But having followed Bosc’s cooking from the mid-‘80s, when he was the in-house chef at Fennel (during its heyday of rotating multi-starred French chefs), I know that he’s worth any number of return visits.

As for Silvio De Mori, his new eponymous enterprise is located in an off-street courtyard complex known as the Rodeo Collection -- which houses several restaurant spaces that have chewed up and expectorated almost innumerable tenants. De Mori, a real charmer, has always had a loyal following. Beyond that, his strategy is to offer every conceivable service. The cafe is open continuously from 11 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. There‘s inside dining, outside dining, a separate coffee house, free valet parking, brunch on Saturday and Sunday, afternoon tea and coffee, music four nights a week. Plus private parties, happy hours -- even after hours -- and catering.

The decor of the cafe is bright, diffuse, an unsettling hodgepodge of random color, clutter and art. The steel-framed pergola is covered in mesh and silk ivy. This is all, frankly, surprising. De Mori, after all, repainted Mimosa’s beautiful yellow walls several times to get the exact shade, an exercise in perfection that would set the measure for all of L.A.‘s bistros.

More surprising is the food itself, a reprise of late-’80s ubiquitous Italian, midpriced and of middling, indifferent quality. Oh, some gems lurk, like silky smoked sturgeon on lemon-horseradish cream. And Mamma‘s spaghetti Bolognese, with its profoundly meaty, long-cooked, almost sweet sauce. But salads -- the endive-and-walnut, the beet -- are insipid, stretched with the standard mix of greens, indifferently dressed. The caprese (tomatoes and bufala mozzarella) is tricked up with finely chopped celery and zucchini, while the tomato itself -- now, in the heart of summer and a glorious tomato season -- is a hard, unripe, tasteless fruit, a $9 travesty.

Pizza with lightly spicy shrimp is actually wholly bland. That tired old standard, crispy whitefish, is also bland and a bit muddy. Spaghetti aglio olio (a classic pasta dressed with olive oil, garlic, red-pepper flakes) is here inexplicably swamped in melted butter. Gross. A slow-cooked Venetian beef stew on a veritable mountain of polenta fails to excite. Nor does dessert necessarily redeem these meals; the chocolate souffle comes close, but both the pear tartin and raspberry tart are halfhearted experiments in puff pastry.

Will De Mori’s charm finesse the difficulties of his location and kitchen? Will Bosc educate and amass his own following of red-blooded bistro gourmands? Only time will tell.

Mimosa, 8009 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 655-8895. Dinner Tues.--Sat. 6--10:30 p.m. Entrees $11--$26. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.

De Mori, 421 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 274-1500. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.--mid. Entrees $10.50--$16.50. Beer and wine. Complimentary valet parking. AE, MC, V.

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