It’s a mixed bag in the fine dining segment post-recession, with Georges Perrier reversing his decision to close Philadelphia icon Le Bec-Fin while star chef Hubert Keller has replaced his haute cuisine spot Fleur de Lys at the Mandalay Bay as the more casual Fleur. But at least these giants of French cuisine are figuring out how to make it work in 2011.
Perrier announced last April that Dec. 31, 2010 would mark the final service at his legendary and beloved Le Bec Fin. Why not? He was 67, the restaurant was celebrating its 40th anniversary and the lingering recession seemed to have convinced him that things were never going to be the same for a white tablecloth restaurant that served expensive French food. It wasn’t that his restaurant wasn’t still great; it was more a feeling that the world had passed it by.
But the restaurant’s many fans and even his executive chef Nicholas Elmi were able to convince Perrier he was making a mistake. The results of their exhortations came to light on New Year’s Eve, when Perrier broke the news that he will stay in business.
“It has been decided that Le Bec-Fin will remain open and Chef Elmi will now become my partner,” he declared. “I will remodel both the Mezzanine and Le Bar Lyonnais in August and I will stay in the kitchen as long as you will have me,” he told the cheering crowd that packed his dining room for the occasion.
Perrier’s one lesson from the recession: he needs another income stream to augment that produced by the restaurant. “I will also be opening a bakery in Narbeth, PA, called the Art of Bread by Georges Perrier,” he said. It’s scheduled to open this spring.
It’s a different story for Keller. While his flagship Fleur de Lys in San Francisco is still going strong, the Fleur de Lys Las Vegas didn’t survive the fine dining downturn. But he’s not giving up without a fight. His new place is Fleur by Hubert Keller, which opened last week in the same space where Fleur de Lys Las Vegas had quietly closed its doors last September. The name is a play on the original, but the concept is much different. It’s more approachable and affordable.
“At Fleur by Hubert Keller, I’m taking guests on a journey to different countries through small plates that are really well prepared, with great flavor,” the chef says. “My new restaurant features several different moods and dining experiences. Guests can watch sports and enjoy a beer in our circular center bar, take in the hotel action from patio dining, sip cocktails in the lounge, enjoy an elegant diner in our main room or have an exclusive meal or celebration with our semi-private cabana dining spaces.”
Most items on the tapas-based menu are priced in the single digits, and the tasting menu goes for $45. But if customers wish to be high rollers, they can order what Keller dubs “The Feast—Eat the Menu.” For a cool $550, a patron receives one of everything on Fleur’s menu. There’s also the FleurBurger 5000, made with wagyu beef, foie gras and truffles. Keller throws in a bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus to justify its $5,000 price tag.
In addition to being great chefs, Perrier and Keller are experienced restaurateurs of the highest order. Keep an eye on how their latest ventures fare in the new era of fine dining.