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I’ve written before (most recently in September 2009) about the offshoots of great restaurants and restaurateurs, starting in my memory with the Bistrots d’à Côté of Michel Rostang (1978) and then the second restaurants (Bistrots de l’Etoile) of Guy Savoy and following that those of Jacques Cagna, Joel Robuchon, Thierry Breton and Bernard Loiseau.
Just a year ago I noted that while KGB, La Cantine du Troquet and the Cartouche Café were my current favorites, I was quite impressed as well with Zinc Caïus, La Cave Edmond, le Bis du Sévero, l’Ecailler du Bistrot (Paul Bert) as well as Thierry Faucher (l’Os à Moelle, etc.) and Christian Constant’s (Rue St Dominique) empires.
This year we’ve seen several other off-shoots emerge—principally outposts of La Régalade, Le Petit Marguery and l’Agapé. And this prompts a whole new line of inquiry – how involved is the chef of the principal place involved and does it really matter.
Let’s start with La Régalade. Here to the best I can figure it, Bruno Doucet not only set up the St Honoré site as a second restaurant and designed the menu, he’s been there cooking every day I’ve eaten there or gone by on my way to the Spring empire or Chez La Vieille – Adrienne or elsewhere. That prompted me and an eating/photographer pal to see what was going on at the mothership—the first restaurant, not the offshoot, but perhaps with a sense of an offshoot. Well, it’s in his sous-chef Pierre Olivier’s good hands, cooking the same fine meals he did when Doucet was present 99% of the time. And, as my pal pointed out to me on our way there, Doucet could still have a heavy hand in selecting, setting up and preparing the food even though he might be cooking 4+ km away (as the crow flies or scooter scoots). Lesson: One doesn’t need to be on the scene to have the results work out well.
Contrast this with Le Comptoir Marguery, which is literally besides Le Petit Marguery and from the hall to the bathroom looks like it joins up in the back with the mothership. But instead of careful stewardship of the offshoot (and if anything, both the old owners, Cousin Brothers, and new owners were and are extremely attentive to what’s going on in both the salle and cuisine of the principal place. But at the Comptoir, the sole chef works in a telephone booth-sized kitchen, heating stuff up in a microwave and one gets a sense of a mistreated orphan shoved outside of the elegant family’s mansion.
Then there’s the Agapé Bistro which, while a long schlep from the main l’Agapé, has the exact same formula: extremely pricey prices except for the forced-choice “menu” (which offers fewer selections than at l’Agapé), “perfect, indeed too perfect food” (aka no fireworks, ooohs and ahhhs, surprises) and an overwhelming sense of 17th arrondissement pretentiousness (the “we’re Chevy Chase and you’re not” attitude).
I recall that there were several reasons given at the beginning why offshoots were established. First, in tough economic times, customers began to drop off at Savoy and Jamin and bistrots were seen as a hedge. In addition, younger sous-chefs got restless and by putting someone well-trained and loyal in an off-shoot the master-chef assured that the sous-chef would be happy (with a chunk of the change) and he could be sure his name and its quality were preserved. And finally, it brought about economies of scale in purchasing everything from beef to wine.
But these principles are for nothing if the masterchef or mothership just casts the offshoot off, no matter how close it is geographically from the mothership. After all, the Régalades, Troquets and Cartouches are a fair distance apart and 2-wheeled vehicles can go only so fast.
On the other hand I recall William Ledeuil dashing out of Ze Kitchen Galérie to get an herb or ingredient from Les Bouquinistes, where he used to work, Christian Constant bringing in a potato galette to the Café Constant from the Violon d’Ingres kitchen and Yves Camdeborde slipping over to l’Avant Comptoir from the main Comptoir to be sure his Basque rugger buddies were happy. Proximity does have its advantages.
The only one of the above offshoots I can enthusiastically endorse is:
La (original) Régalade
49, avenue Jean Moulin, 14th (Metro : Porte d’Orléans)
T: 01 45 45 68 58
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Lunch menu = 32, but lots of supplements, à la carte 30-40 €.
Blog: John Talbott’s Paris at http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/john_talbotts_paris/ ©by John Talbott 2010
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