Dishing Restaurant Rumors

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 28, 2007
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Donna Jung and husband Chef Mavro will open Cassis in May
Donna Jung and husband Chef Mavro will open Cassis
in May

If you can’t stand the condo board, get out of the kitchen. That’s the message The Bistro owner Clifford Laughton is sending to anyone thinking of entering the now vacant restaurant space at Century Center.

Laughton got out of the kitchen for good last Tuesday, when he abruptly closed the popular fine dining restaurant after an entirely unreasonable demand for increased rent from the Century Center board. Having spent more than $2 million improving the dilapidated site, Laughton is not pleased with the results of his short stay (just three years) in the building. Via a terrifically vitriolic press release, he accuses the condo board of being unde-serving of having a restaurant like The Bistro prop up their declining building.

Having heard his side of the story, it’s hard to be anything but incredibly sympathetic to the Laughtons and their staff. Good news is, they’re on the look out for new space, and The Bistro will reopen.

Palomino restaurant closed the Friday before Valentine’s Day. My sources say that rising rent forced the relatively successful member of the Restaurants Unlimited group (Ryan’s Grill, Kincaid’s) to call it a day, and you have to figure that a scary rent would be enough to frighten most restaurateurs. That didn’t stop Chef Mavro from immediately signing the lease, though. Mavro’s eponymous restaurant has been phenomenally successful these past few years.

“It’s exceeded our expectations,” says the infectiously enthusiastic chef.

So chef and his wife and business partner, Donna Jung, have decided to add another restaurant to the family. Cassis will open on May 1 and will serve the kind of food that the Marseilles-born Mavro loves. Roast chicken, fresh fish and a menu of simple peasant food. I can also tell you what you won’t find on the menu.

“No sandwich, no pasta, no salad and no pizza,” says Chef. “Definitely no pizza.”

Mary Philpot is said to be the designer of choice to refurbish the 270-seat dining room.

More European rumblings come further down the street, as the unlikely pairing of Chef Donato Loperfido and Aussie-born Philippe Padovani team up to open a joint venture under the watchful eye (one hopes) of Keith Kuichi. “Philippe and I are good friends and we work very well together in the kitchen,” says Donato, who admits that the plan to put two famously large egos in the same room will be aided by the fact that each chef will work a three-day shift. Alone.

“We’ll train all the staff in both of our cooking styles, so they know everything,” says Donato.

Possible new restaurant sites include a certain spot on Kapiolani Boulevard that has recently become vacant. Donato is a busy guy. He’s also taking over the Restaurant Row spot recently vacated by Yanni Trainedes and his Greek restaurant. I can’t wait to taste Donato’s food again - and have my fingers and toes crossed for his new ventures. This town needs chefs like Donato and Padovani - at times I think we’re in danger of becoming a city besieged by Mainland chains and some very dull Japanese and tired Pacific Rim restaurants.

And more rumors to put to rest: Aaron’s is not closed or closing. I’ve heard this rumor so many times in the past few weeks that I called charismatic restaurant mogul Aaron Placourakis for a chat.

“Things couldn’t be better,” he says of the award-winning Aaron’s. Placourakis also owns one of the best restaurants in Hawaii - Sarento’s on the Beach, Maui, and the incredibly successful Son’z Maui at the Hyatt-Regency Kaanapali. Here on Oahu, Sarento’s atop The Ilikai, another Tri Star restaurant, is still going strong.

L’Uraku closed the day after Valentine’s Day, leaving a lot of brightly painted umbrellas with nowhere to hang, and in Waikiki the Yard House opened to rave reviews and the usual long wait for dinner. I spoke to owner Steele Platt, a former Kailuan, who is happy to be back in the islands. Great rock ‘n’ roll is a feature of Yard House and Steele has hand-picked dozens of Hawaii’s best CDs to be a part of the restaurant’s play list.

Happy eating!

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