Taste: Where Even (Most) Megastars Feel at Home

melrose avenue, restaurant
Erez Mizrahi, regional director of EG Hospitality Group, which operates Taste on Melrose. Originally from Tel Aviv, Mizrahi “loves the beach.” (Photo by Michael Jortner)

“You know the Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’?” That’s what Erez Mizrahi asks me as we sit at a table in the year-and-half-new rear addition of Taste on Melrose.

Not a question I expected to hear. But when a rock star handsome Israeli with a killer smile and a deep, masculine accent says, well, anything at all to me, really, I pay attention.

At 43, Mizrahi is regional director of EG Hospitality Group, the company that owns Taste, a WeHo institution for 13 years now. Add to that Taste Pacific Palisades and both locations of Tortilla Republic (WeHo and Laguna Beach), and he oversees four restaurants in all.

Tippi Hedren doesn’t figure into this story one bit. But “a big name” star-director with racial hang-ups, who detests having his photo taken, does. Poor thing. If only he didn’t smoke in the ultra-visible, open-air entrance of the restaurant multiple times during dinner.

Before you know it “You’ve got one, two, three…” explained Mizrahi, “An hour later you have 25 paparazzi waiting outside in the parking lot.”

Big star get mad. Very, very mad.

restaurant, melrose avenue
Taste added a middle outdoor patio with olive trees (and heaters) about 18 months ago. During winter it drapes pashminas on the back of your seat so you can stay snug. (Photo by Michael Jortner)

Apparently, the double-hyphenate celebrity searched in vain for a back exit but got trapped on the side patio. Sorry, pal. If you make millions, you can face the flashbulbs.

When Mizrahi started as general manager of Taste five years ago, there was no back door. And celebrity-laden perils aside, Mizrahi clearly enjoys the restaurant business. You can tell by the way he grins as he talks about his career path, how he talks about his “guests.”

Mizrahi emigrated from Tel Aviv in 2004. “It’s a big country, the U.S. More possibilities,” he said. “I love the beach.” So WeHo-ish it became. He lives in an area he dubbed “Fairfax-Hollywood.”

Once manager of well-known Hollywood nightclub the Avalon, he also did a stint with The One Group, which runs glamour spot STK recently relocated to the W in Westwood.

And he had his own place in Venice for a year, Sababa. The name “means ‘all good’ in Hebrew,” Mizrahi explained. Just saying “sababa” makes him smile – and that tells me a lot. The guy just wants people to chill, have a good time.

After “working seven days, 70/80 hours a week” for not enough return, Mizrahi sought “the right place to work.”

Enter EG Hospitality’s founders John Halter and Morten Kaag, “partners in life and in business for about 15 years,” Mizrahi said. The trio clicked.

What’s up with the “EG”? “Everyday Grateful is what it means,” Mizrahi said, describing the company philosophy.

If you have never dined at Taste, listen to Mizrahi when he says there is “something for everyone.”

“We’re, like, simple California cuisine. There are some Italian touches. The owners influence healthy choices.” The cuisine may be summed up best as One Big Comfort Factor.

My personal favorites are the grilled artichoke appetizer and rigatoni Bolognese. Accent that with a glass of Chianti and you’re set. Chicken paillard and meatball pasta? “They’re staples,” says Mizrahi.

That doesn’t mean Taste is modern cuisine averse. “Demand has doubled” for vegan and gluten-free eating options since he started. “We infuse more of those dishes into our menu.” Any pasta dish can be made gluten-free and, as for their brunch, a protein scramble found its way onto the menu, as did egg substitutes.

Taste swears by social media to take customers’ temperatures. “A Harvard Business School survey said that for every point you win or lose on Yelp, it’s about 20% of your revenue,” Mizrahi said. That metric got his attention. “And for us [social media] also helps us to spot trends.”

What does he mean? It’s not about when a server may be having a bad night and a less-than-positive review arrives. If guests are making similar comments about the food, good or bad, “we want to know,” Mizrahi said.

“Angelenos…they love to brunch,” Mizrahi said. And for Taste on Sunday, that’s the busiest shift of the week, by far. Adding an outdoor middle patio seating 24, and the hip, modern bistro in the back, easily doubled its business. It also added a bar that seats up to 12 and a second kitchen.

Remember the “A-lister” mentioned above? Thankfully, not all superstars are like that.

“We have a really famous singer who loves coming in here, and she could not be a nicer person,” Mizrahi said. “She loves to sit in the front by the window. Always tips above and beyond.” (My guess is Cher. She’s a local, right?)

What about that ideal, protected, rear entrance-slash-exit? Could Taste accommodate a grumpy celebrity’s demands today? Mizrahi grins. “Yes, we can definitely do that now,” he replied (post-renovation).

I feel sorta bad for whoever that entertainment industry luminary in need of an escape route was. (My guess is ______. How about yours?)

Taste on Melrose
8454 Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 852-6888
http://ilovetaste.com/app/taste_melrose/
infomelrose@ilovetaste.com