The return of Neil Stein

Oh, we've heard this comeback story before.

Neil Stein has told it to anyone who'd listen since he got out of prison in 2007. (To me, here in 2008.) And, more recently to Foobooz, here.

This time, there truly may be something cooking for the man who was once the toast of the city's restaurant scene before his life and empire crumbled.

Lisa Silveri, a Realtor, told me that Stein is developing a bistro with Tony Chang, whose Chinese-restaurant holdings include Wok on Walnut Street and City Garden at 18th and JFK Boulevard.

Stein, now 70, will not be an owner. The city still lists him among its biggest tax delinquents, with $1.26 million owed.

The name will be 8Teen, or some variation. Silveri, who represents Chang, said Chang likes the number 8.

The location very well may be the spot now occupied by City Garden, across from the Comcast Center (where his old partner Joe Wolf manages the marketplace).

On Sept. 21, Chang, Stein, Silveri were among a team that went before AIMCO, the company that owns the 1801 building, to explain the concept. AIMCO plans to redevelop the building, where City Garden has been a tenant for 20 years.

Designer Chris Sheffield, now working on the new Stephen Starr restaurant at the New-York Historical Society, is on the team, too, said Silveri, who introduced Stein and Chang.

Silveri said Chang has a Plan B if the 1801 space does not fly with AIMCO: A building he is about to purchase just off of Rittenhouse Square. Silveri declined to name the spot, but buzz on the street identifies it as 1921 Walnut.

"Either way, we're moving forward," she said.

Referring to the Rittenhouse Square bistro he founded in 1998, Stein said Thursday: "I hate to say it's going to be like Rouge, but... There will be 80 outside seats."

Stein's restaurant holdings once also included such destinations as Striped Bass, Bleu and Avenue B. He served 10 months in state prison for tax evasion.