Hollywood Babylon

"I want to be the next Emeril, the next Wolfgang Puck, the next Norman Van Aiken," Michael Blum says. Judging from his plans for a 5,000-square-foot space at 2000 Harrison St. in Hollywood, it may be only a matter of time. "We're about food that's in-your-face, Cirque de Soleil dining. We're going to create something here that could hold its own in New York, Toronto, Seattle. I want this to be a big-time restaurant with the feel of old Hollywood, like the Diplomat when Sinatra was there." Blum, who's a dead ringer for Mark Ruffalo, runs, as he puts it, "at 110 miles per hour." He's just made a deal to sell Michael's Kitchen in Dania Beach, the place he started in 1994 as a takeout bakery and eventually turned into the little restaurant that could. That cash will come in handy. Blum's new Hollywood spot, also to be called Michael's Kitchen is setting him and partner Andy Savvidas, owner of 11th Street Diner in Miami, back a cool million. The City of Hollywood kicked in $150,000, a sum Blum calls "unprecedented."

Workers haul light fixtures and ladders; designer Carlos Adhavsingh paces, vetting paint colors through his cell phone. Blum's dream had better come true before next week, when he's got his first private party scheduled for the back room.

"This wine cooler is my pride and joy," he says. Floor to ceiling, made to hold 2,200 bottles -- "a Wine Spectator-level wine list" -- the Lucite shelving disappears when the lights go down, leaving bottles floating in space. The bar will feature "top-shelf brands." Ceviche and oyster shooters will be dished up from a center island. Leather banquettes are arranged "like a 42-person theater," with front-row seats for the open kitchen, where Blum and chef Brian Smith (of Armadillo Café) will perform their magic tricks, every toss of the pan reflected on stainless-steel walls. Diners at the granite bar facing the kitchen will be "four feet from the flames." Will Blum be handing out fire-retardant bibs?

He may just set Hollywood, if not his customers, on fire. Blum admits the competition is fierce, but with space to seat 255 indoors and out; room enough for the athletes, politicos, and celebs he hopes to attract when he opens December 22; plus a private party room renting for $8,000 a pop on weekends, it looks like he's got his lobsters in a row.

 
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