Epicures looking forward to 220 Main debut

The Houston Chronicle
Shelby Hodge
March 24, 2003, Monday 3 STAR EDITION

SOPHISTICATED foodies and hipsters are salivating over prospects for the 220 Main hotel project. Set to open in December, the luxury property will boast the talents of internationally recognized restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten of New York and Randy Gerber, the hip nightspot designer who also happens to be the husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Vongerichten's concept for the restaurant, located in the lobby of the vintage 1911 bank building, follows that of Prime, the classy steak and seafood eatery he created for the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Among his vast credits are Jean-Georges in Trump Tower and the Mercer Kitchen, both in in New York.

Gerber's company Midnight Oil Bars is designing the mezzanine-level urban saloon at 220 Main. He's the force behind the Whisky Bars in New York and L.A. and other tony watering holes around the country.

Operated by Benchmark Hospitality of The Woodlands, the new hotel is still without an official name. But the players and the $ 30 million for the project are in place. Developer: Randall Davis. Investors: Dick Weekley, David Weekley and Burt Cabanas, Benchmark CEO. Hotel general manager: Troy Bennett.

Ballroom dancing

One might have expected fancy footwork at last month's Ballet Ball, but it's the Houston Grand Opera Ball April 5 that will boast a royal pas de deux. That's when homegrown talent Patrick Swayze and his wife, Lisa Niemi, both accomplished actors and dancers, will display their brand of dips and spins in the Grand Foyer of Wortham Theater Center.

Shelly Ann and I.W. Marks, chairs of the white-tie gala, invited the duo. They accepted and offered to perform a routine from their new film One Last Dance. The movie premieres the night before at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival. Both Swayze and Niemi star in the film, for which Niemi wrote the screenplay.

Red-carpet blues

Houstonians Cherry Kutac, Alicia Buescher and Carolyn Ohrt had their outfits already selected for the red-carpet parade at Sunday's Academy Awards. Then the motion-picture academy pulled the plug on the flashy star procession in deference to war and security issues.

The Houston trio had been among 300 individuals selected for the coveted bleacher seats that line the red carpet. Stargazing at its finest. They were chosen from among thousands of ticket requests.

But the e-mail arrived last week informing them there would be no bleacher seating this year. The silver lining to this cloud of disappointment: They would have seats at next year's 76th Academy Awards. No stopping these women. They were in L.A. over the weekend star-searching anyway.

L.A. partying

Houston man about town and investor Nixon Wheat made the L.A. party scene last week, throwing his own cocktail soiree Friday night at Raffles L'Ermitage Beverly Hills. The do was in honor of edgy, up-and-coming designer Anand Jon.

Among the 60 guests were the designer's friends and clients, including Marla Maples, Tina Louise, hip-hop musician Eve, Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys and celeb photographer Patrick McMullen.

Hair play

Could it be that only Jordy Tollet's hairdresser knows for sure? Actually, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau honcho readily admits that his thick locks are getting lighter.

It began back in December. In a nod to his strawberry blond daughter, Tollett had highlights added to his slightly graying but otherwise dark brown coif. Last month, he kicked it up a blond notch, and people started taking notice.

"It's no midlife crisis," he explained. "My wife says it makes me look younger."

Tollett has long been noted for flamboyant fashion ways, from his patent-leather spectator shoes to one-time shoulder-length locks. At the rate he 's going, we'll soon be ready to ask the political appointee if blonds really do have more fun.

Saints, not sinners

To celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, the board of the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation hosted a reception at the St. Peter and the Vatican: Legacy of the Popes exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Melange Catering helped create for guests the traditional "St. Joseph table," with symbolic foods and flowers. There were breads in the shapes of cross, staff, heart and ladder. Each guest received a fava bean, a traditional Italian symbol of good luck.

Among those sampling the Lenten meatless dishes were foundation board chair David Baird, Isla and Tommy Reckling, Monsignor Frank Rossi, Rebecca Herndon, Joann and Gene Allspach, Matt Harris, and Bill Wright, Christus Health Gulf Coast board member.

Star gazing

Jane Goodall, a United Nations "messenger of peace," plucking a room-service rose from a tray at the Warwick Hotel. She was in town to address the Houston Forum. ... Gospel singer Kirk Franklin and ZZ Top's Dusty Hill shoe-shopping at Donald J Pliner.

© Copyright 2003 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company