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Everyone should have Edoardo Baldi’s problems. “I’d like to throw Table 1 out the window,” says Baldi, 35, the chef/owner of Tuscan restaurant e. baldi, of the headaches of seating the house’s most important table. But then he’d be throwing Denzel Washington, Woody Allen, Simon Cowell or Eli Broad — along with their lobster ravioli — out the window as well.
Some restaurants (Craft, Cecconi’s) debut to deafening buzz. But Canon Drive’s e. baldi has taken an atypical route to become perhaps the power-player spot of the moment. It’s a lesson in how even a chef with a pedigreed name — Eduardo’s father is the proprietor of celeb-swarmed Giorgio Baldi — can struggle, and how almost no press (Baldi has no publicist) can actually be a good thing. If e. baldi was a TV show, it would have been canceled after three episodes. Instead, it has snuck up on its competitors to approach near-Morton’s status.
On a recent Tuesday, Arnold Kopelson and family are at that proverbial Table 1, the first one just inside the door to the left. Steve Tisch is at his usual perch. Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are at theirs. Robert Evans greets Vidal Sassoon. A few tables away, Kathy Freston and casting agent Robyn Todd Steinberg are lunching. “We love to bring Larry David here,” Steinberg says. “Ex-New Yorkers really appreciate this place.” The only thing not abuzz today is Steinberg’s poodle Izzy, snoring underneath the table.
The eatery opened in August 2006, but the owner’s original idea of a high-end espresso and desserts bar didn’t take off. “I quickly learned that in Beverly Hills, they want traditional lunch and dinner,” says Baldi, whose family moved here from Tuscany when he was 10.
But even after relaunching as a full-fledged restaurant, the place didn’t really take off — despite the cachet of his foodie surname in a town where nepotism often pays off. “I had some personal issues,” admits Baldi, looking uncomfortable. “And they slowed me down.” He and his then-wife/business partner Darnell Gregorio-De Palma Baldi (she was once married to Brian De Palma) divorced — and it took its toll. “This is a people business,” Baldi says. “If you’re not catering to them and charming them, it doesn’t work. After the bad period, we closed for two weeks, then reopened in September 2008. The whole place had a different feeling, and everyone noticed. Jane Semel brought Al Gore; Steve Bing started to bring his friends. Then one night, Semel called and said, ‘Someone important wants to come in, but I don’t want to tell you who.’ It turned out to be Mick Jagger.”
Says Irena Medavoy: “We love it. I had Mike’s birthday party there. It’s anti-paparazzi, and everyone is there. Everyone. It’s the Ma Maison of its time. It’s clublike but with the best food.” What ultimately attracted this A-list mix? To this day, Baldi, oddly, isn’t quite sure. “It’s the food,” he says proudly. Then he adds, “But this is Hollywood — they also like a scene.”
Size apparently matters too. “It’s tiny,” says The Young and the Restless head writer Maria Bell, who has been coming since the beginning. “You see everybody and hear everybody. And that’s the fun.” With just 21 inside tables, not a one ends up feeling like Siberia. The dish beloved by regulars — who also include Larry Gagosian, Tony Scott and Jamie and Frank McCourt (who divided their days, of course) — is the perfectly cooked langoustine salad.
There is only one VIP dissenter: Chef Giorgio.
“My dad doesn’t speak much English,” Baldi says, “but he always gives me pointers: ‘The light’s too hot! The air conditioning’s too cold!’ He’s just being a dad — he means well. But he never gives me a compliment!”
THE PATRONS: Beverly Hills’ e. baldi lures everyone from the young celebs (Jesse Eisenberg, Rihanna) to industry players (John Branca, Quincy Jones).
Cameron Diaz: A regular; likes the sliced New York steak.
Sumner Redstone: Always sits just inside the door at Table 1.
Ron Howard: Frequent business lunches with partner Brian Grazer.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Ordered a second round of pastas for his entire table.
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Samuel L. Jackson