May 29, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
Out of the Mouths of Crocodiles
I scream. You scream. We all scream. Photo: Steven Richter
What a relief is right. Well, three weeks late is not bad for a brand new website, internet jockeys tell me. Here’s what I’m hearing.
Geoffrey Zakarian is sprucing up his act at Town, I hear, since NYTimes critic Frank Bruni was spotted there, presumably looking for fissures in the restaurant’s three stars. Zakarian, who has never been known as a dedicated fixture in his kitchens, is fluffing up the food, insiders say. A polished maitre d’ and a sommelier who worked at Alain Ducasse are new in the house.
Like uncontrollable gluttons circling a juicy lamb shank, chef icons, restauranteur wannabes, groupies and double agents have been hanging out on the sidewalk at Brasserie LCB, the once and only La Cote Basque, looking for Jean Jacques Rachou. Any number of players in various stages of restaurant fantasy and development are hungering for Rachou’s lease with its remarkably sane rent.
Deeply depressed, seemingly inconsolable, the 70-year-old chef locked the front door this past March 8th, the day the Health Department shut him down during the lunch service for what it said was a history of violations. Only a token few friends claim to have reached Rachou and they are protective. “He lost his cell phone,” says Rita Jammet, last proprietor of La Caravelle. “He won’t talk to anyone,” inisists another confidante.
Charles Palmer is one of the constellation of chef stars who prepped in Rachou’s kitchen at the original La Cote Basque before it was forced to evacuate East 55th Street to make way for Disney. He came in from his fiefdom in Healdsberg, California, and stopped by to give Rachou a pep talk. Palmer tried the back door and found a steward cleaning up, but no sign of Jean Jacques.
Tyson Wong Ophaso, who walked away from his executive chef spot at Chinatown Brasserie some weeks ago was seen pacing the pavement. Ophaso, who ran the Cote Basque kitchen after stints in France, left town for Bangkok, telling my New York confreres at Grub Street, “I haven’t seen my family in fifteen years. And they’re getting old, man. I’m the only son.” Ophaso is back, apparently ready to work again.
But it may be too late to inherit the generous space at 60 West 55. The word is that Alain Ducasse has already made the deal. He has denied it, but the men who worked for him at his namesake spot in the Essex House insist it is a fate accompli. An admiring but cynical long-time Ducasse watcher suggested to me that a double header would suit the Robot chef’s ego. “Wouldn’t it be just like him to open Adour at the St. Regis and a Manhattan outpost of Benoit the same week?”
Ducasse has a way with restoring old bistros and brasseries. His Aux Lyonnais in Paris is stunning and I’ve eaten very well there. So if the rumor is true, I’ll hope his Manhattan Benoit is as beautiful as Tokyo’s. But the kitchen had better be more gifted.