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IT'S AN OPEN SECRET AGAIN; NEW OWNERS BRING PLATES OF TASTY FOOD TO MOORPARK RESTAURANT WITH GRANDER PLANS ON THE DRAWING BOARD.

Byline: Krystn Shrieve Staff Writer

MOORPARK - The Secret Garden, a restaurant that closed last year after a legal battle with the wife of teen idol Frankie Valli, has been sold to French chef Michel Bardavid, who reopened the eatery.

Bardavid and his wife, Laurea, purchased the restaurant in April and reopened it several weeks ago with a new French-American menu.

Laurea Bardavid remembers eating at the restaurant before it went up for sale and thinking that the garden would be the perfect place for them to renew their wedding vows one day.

``We fell in love with the place,'' she said. ``We were there at night and there were lights all throughout the garden. We never thought we'd end up owning it.''

The Secret Garden is in a Victorian house that dates back to the early 1900s. The tables are at least a century old and were brought to the United States from England. The garden, which seats 200 people, is 6,000 square feet of lush, colorful walkways with more than 3,000 flowering plants and trees.

The new owners are in the process of planting more flowers and adding a fresh herb garden. Eventually, Michel Bardavid said he also wants to set up an area where he can cook outdoors.

Bardavid was born and raised in Lyons, France, which he considers the gastronomic capital of the world. He attended the Dardilla culinary school and has worked for Hotel Bel-Air, Ma Maison Hotel and Checkers Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

``I've been wanting to open a restaurant for a while now,'' Bardavid said. ``But I can't give up the cooking. I do all the cooking myself. It's fun. I get to be involved with both the creative side of things and the business side of things.''

Bardavid created a lunch menu and weekly special menus and made everything on his dinner menu a la carte to make the prices more affordable. The average price is about $18.

The entrees include seafood and lobster ravioli, free-range chicken stuffed with goat cheese and asparagus and served with artichoke, sun- dried tomato ravioli or peppered New York steak with garlic mashed potatoes.

``Everyone always loved The Secret Garden before, but they only wanted to go there for special occasions,'' Laurea Bardavid said. ``We think that when people go out for a good dining experience, they shouldn't have to pay an arm and a leg, and they shouldn't be restricted to going somewhere just on their birthday or anniversary. We want people to come all the time.''

Bardavid said the new owners still get questions about the incident involving Valli's wife, Randy, who was found guilty of misdemeanor battery after slapping former owner Sandra ``Alex'' Sofsky during an argument. Witnesses said the problem started when the Vallis' dinner companion, singer Frankie Avalon, complained about prices at the restaurant, where entrees used to average $30 and were served on Limoges china.

``Everybody wants to know what happened and whether the previous owners were at fault,'' Bardavid said. ``I just tell them no and leave it at that.''

The Secret Garden, 255 High St., Moorpark, is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays; and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturdays. Brunch is served 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays, and the restaurant is closed Mondays. Call (805) 552-9523.

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2 photos

Photo:

(1) French chef Michel Bardavid drizzles sauce over one of his creations at The Secret Garden, which he and his wife have bought and reopened.

(2) Foodis served amid 3,000 flowering plants and trees tucked into The Secret Garden in Moorpark.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 6, 2000
Words:629
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