Imagine a small bistro so chic it asks to have its number (213 655-1991) removed from the telephone book. “If you don’t have the number, we don’t want you,” is the explanation. But that’s all right. Jack Nicholson, Paula Prentiss, Burt Reynolds and Jackie Bisset have it. So do David Frost, Fred Astaire, Can-dice Bergen, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Henry Winkler. “If someone dropped a bomb on this place right now, it would paralyze the entire entertainment industry,” Columbia Pictures Vice-President Bill Tennant recently observed.
Rolls-Royces jam the tiny parking lot at Patrick Terrail’s Ma Maison in West Hollywood, while inside the likes of Marlon Brando, Ringo Starr, Paul Newman and Cat Stevens enjoy saumon fumé and strawberry daiquiris. “Patrick, how embarrassing,” says Zsa Zsa Gabor. “There’s a white Rolls parked next to mine that’s exactly the same.”
Gene Kelly brings his children by Ma Maison for early supper prepared by the master chef, Austrian-born Wolfgang Puck, 27. Stevie Wonder once took over all 150 seats to celebrate his mother’s birthday. In the early days of their romance Jonathan Fast courted Erica Jong there, and in the tiny bar TV host Ed McMahon keeps his own wine (Corton-Charlemagne 1973). While Lauren Bacall was in town for a show, she brought her toy spaniel in for dinner. She ordered salad for herself and chopped veal for Blenheim.
“There are those who think me arrogant and a snob,” says Terrail, 35, who often gets up at 4 a.m. to go to the nearby farmers market for fresh California vegetables, turbot from Holland, Boston mussels and red snapper from Florida. “It’s just that I’m a fanatic. I am constantly striving for perfection. It is a passion with me.”
In France, Terrail’s family has been connected for four generations with legendary restaurants like the three-star Tour d’Argent (founded by his grandfather, now owned by his uncle, Claude Terrail), the Café Anglais and Escargot-Montorgueil. But Patrick did not apprentice in the kitchens of the Tour d’Argent. He was shipped off to boarding school at an early age after his parents divorced. “My childhood was one of searching and longing, lonely and dark,” he recalls. Sent to the U.S., he studied at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
After a year with Pan Am in Africa, Terrail headed back to New York. For the next four years he honed his management skills at such top restaurants as the Four Seasons, the Brasserie, El Morocco and L’Etoile. “I was still in my 20s and hobnobbing with the people who run this country,” says Terrail. “It was such an ego trip.”
He decided to move to L.A. in 1973. One evening after preparing a lavish dinner for friends at his new home in Laurel Canyon, Patrick asked them to lend him $5,000 apiece. Seven came through and he opened Ma Maison in an old warehouse in December. “People like the Gabors and Suzanne Pleshette were invaluable,” Terrail says. “They brought in people who brought in others.”
Because of the hours he devotes to the restaurant, bachelor Terrail has all but ignored his personal life. “It is easier to get laid,” he says dryly, “than to find a decent conversationalist.” A Gallic shrug is Terrail’s rebuff to intimate questions about his celebrity guests. “They are entitled to privacy,” he says. “It’s part of the reason they come.”
And come they do. “Once I fought with friends to get them to patronize Ma Maison,” pouts Zsa Zsa. “Now I can’t even get a table.”