Haute & Spicy - Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills is alive with the sound of sizzling spots, be they tried-and-true or wild and new.

To think it took Mario Oliver this long to open a restaurant in Beverly Hills. Although the dapper, golden-haired impresario-turned-restaurateur was born in France, he nonetheless would seem a worthy representative of all the city has to offer, from breezy style (he complements his Levi's with DKNY jackets and James Perse T-shirts) to royal-pleasing savoir faire (he dated Princess Stephanie in the '80s). Moreover, Oliver has made Beverly Hills his own since 1981, when he rooted himself by renting a guest house within walking distance of Rodeo Drive (these days, the expatriate and his son, Morgan, 12, share a home close by). The draw? The BH existence is akin to "living on Park Avenue," he says in his still-thick-as-beurre accent.

So, finally, Oliver-the restaurant-has arrived, and its timing couldn't be better. Just as the city is being treated to a diva's face-lift, from new sidewalks to budding shrubbery, Beverly Hills' restaurant and nightlife scene is enjoying not just a resurgence but a surprising hipification. While cozy standards such as the Polo Lounge and The Grill on the Alley continue to work their charms, there's a near-giddiness in the air that can be attributed to a mini-slew of new hot spots. From the Francoera-evocative tapas and wine bar Cobra Lily (which teams Steven Arroyo, the brains behind L.A.'s hot Cobras & Matadors, with former C Bar proprietor Cedd Moses) to the oven-tested Massimo-well, the town hasn't seen this much action since Shannen Doherty stirred things up on Bevelly Hills, 90270. No wonder there are rumors swirling that the storied Chasen's will return yet again in a new location, perhaps on Bedford Drive.

Mario OliverOliver's venture is firmly planted on very prime property itself. "I'm right across from Barneys, I've got Saks on my right, and I'm a block west from Rodeo," the fortysomething says with an incredulous giggle. His fortune shouldn't elicit too loud a quelle surprise, in the '80s, he came up (or down) with Vertigo, the legendary club frequented by a brigade of Euros, vodka-cloused models, Armani-dressed stockbrokers, USC sorority vixens and other Reagan-era rollickers who lined up behind the city's tightest velvet rope. From there, he opened the fleetingly hot restaurant Tryst and a masses-appeasing club called The Gate before he finally found his groove again with Linq, the suave bistro on Third Street that has ridden the new millennium so successfully, it was perhaps bound to scream sequel!

Appropriately, Oliver (9601 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-888-8160) is ensconced in the latest branch of Sports Club L.A., where many of the restaurateur's tony and toned clientele have begun to flex (but not Mario himself; living, working and working out in the same tiny radius "would be too much," he pooh-poohs). The building was previously a Wells Fargo bank, and Oliver patrons can enter through what was once a vault.
Not that change purses are left dry at this café which ubiquitous designer Dodd Mitchell (see Falcon, Avenue, et al.) has accented with black-and-white tiled floors, Venetian plaster and a 30-foot-long bar. Chef Jim Leger's 6 a.m.-till-10 p.m. menu swings from organic ouefs to a reasonably priced seared New York steak with golden trumpet mushrooms and a Merlot shallot reduction sauce ($26). And, modeled after Lincq, Oliver is what its feng-shui-espousing namesake calls "a very sexy room that flows, where every corner, there is an attraction."
…back at a certain new café, Mario Oliver, the type to relish a challenge, is pretty convinced that he has the goods to hold his own among the city's entrenched establishments. His restaurateur's name has promise, he doesn't mind saying. "It's classy and clean", he adds with a wink. "It's great name for Beverly Hills."

by John Griffiths, a regular contributor to InStyle, Glamour and Premiere
Beverly Hills Magazine – Winter 2003/2004