Places where you are caught in the revolving door

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Routinely I eat at places in transition because I love to try places that just opened and that have new chefs, new proprietors, or new looks or all of the above.  Most of the time, the new places are truly that; everybody and everything is replaced; the owner, manager, chef, staff, furniture and paint.  So you’ve got a straight shot at judging the place.  The trickiest place to review is one where only one element has changed or they do the changes gradually and I strongly suspect I stepped into the latter last week. Here’s what happened.  I’d heard about a place – Roger La Grenouille – where something had changed recdently, but I couldn’t recall what.  Looking at the ardoise I saw a notice that there had been a change in ownership and later when I was presented the check I saw that the folks at the nearby old bistro Allard had taken over.  Nothing wrong with that, altho’ I’d tired of Allard in the 1970’s; why? Oh, I think the price-quality didn’t match its reputation.  And indeed the prices here, despite is location near Jacques Cagna and William Ledeuil, were not commensurate with a dusty-old bistro that looked like nothing had changed since its founding in 1930.  Frogs legs (6) as an entrée were 25 Euros and for a plat = 31; entrees in general were 12-20 and mains 18-60 (OK for a cote de boeuf for two).  That would have been OK if they were the best in the world or Paris but they were not.  Why? I really have only a suspicion.  I think they’re in a state of transition.  Evidence: one description I read, talked of the front man being in impeccable dress of coat and tie – no such!  Further: there were two young women in the kitchen bustling about while one older man looked out through the pass-through at everything I ate.  My guess, then is the Allard team is slowly replacing the old Roger team and I got caught in the middle.  And it’s not the first time. My worst shock came when I made a reservation at a fairly fancy place in the 16th years ago.  I should have been suspicious when they answered “Restaurant, Bonjour” without the name.  Sure enough, we showed up and it had morphed from an eponymous named place to a pizza joint.  And only a few weeks ago, a resto we’d been frequenting for almost a decade overnight, Grande Rue, became a sandwicherie or the like.  And they too had answered the phone ambiguously, so we didn’t know until we got there we had to bail out to a nearby known item (thank our memories for the coordinates.) Now these two cannot have signaled us in any way, although we should have intuited from the funny answering something was amiss.  And I should have suspected that because Roger hasn’t been reviewed by the big boys (eg Rubin, Simon, Demorand, Pudlo, etc) and girls (Kemp and Jackson) it probably had not yet undergone its conversion.   Really big take-overs, e.g., Ducasse at Benoit and Aux Lyonnais, Westermann at Drouant, Gagnaire at Gaya Rive Gauche and Robuchon at Seize au Seize now La Table de….are really big events and one is forewarned, but what about the lesser changes.  How does one know, and if one does, can you predict how it’ll go? Another example, a few years ago, a place not too far from my apartment, Le Soleil, where I’d had a checkered eating history, announced to the press a change in chefs – I rushed over.  Halfway through the meal the new chef indeed appeared but really just for a “walk-through,” the food we were eating was designed, prepared and/or overseen by the departing guy with the spotty record. And how’s this for getting taken.  Ten years ago, Au Biche au Bois offered a spectacular “menu” with game (notably biche) during game season at something like 125 Francs, which would now be 20 bucks.  I went by one day and noted that there was a sign changed change in ownership so I asked the waiter I knew if anything had changed; not at all he said and waved inside and indeed, the waitstaff, food and kitchen looked exactly the same, but sadly, it was not. Then there are people who themselves get caught in the transition.  Example: Bruno Doucet at La Regalade.  Taking over from the legendary (at least among American foodies) Yves Camdeborde, cannot have been easy.  He kept Camdeborde’s “look,” menu in the American sense, bread and terrines but after a while tried to find his own “voiced” and had a lot of trouble.  Likewise, Stephane Mole, whose cooking I adored at Les Ormes way out in the deepest 16th tried too hard, I think, to blend his food into that at Bellecoeur and I do not think succeeded.  And finally, a successful example.  Chez les Anges was one of my mythical restos in the ‘70’s, able to provide spectacular food at great prices.  Taken over by the quirky Paul Minchelli (he of the signs not to disturb the lobsters’ sex lives and 800 franc canned sardines) it had no whisper of its past for years.  Along comes Jacques Lapiciere, waltzing down the street from Au Bon Accueil, et voila, it’s not the pale imitation of the original but a proud homage – Chez les Anges II as it were….
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