What Price Chic?

       The present generation of French restaurants opened warily in Los Angeles with simple menus served on checked tablecloths in abandoned storefronts. When Porsches began to fill the off-streets and it became evident that there was wit and palate for this elementary subtlety, the small French restaurants began to gain confidence. They have gained a lot.

     Dinner for two inn many of these still small, but now elegant, restaurants will hover at $50 to $70 with an easy climb upward if enthusiasm for les cartes of imported wines is not restrained. Which is only somewhat less than dinner for two at Grand Vefour, Paris.

     Is it worth it?

     To determine this fragile fact, my associate, Colman Andrews, and I have attempted to make a cold-blooded survey, undistracted by charm, friendship or le chic.

     Probably Kit Marshal and Au Petit Café can be credited with introducing smartness 12 years ago. There was little comfort, but there was sophisticated charm, decorative guests and a roster of excellent, chefs, most of whom have become chef-patrons of their own small restaurants.
     Because with le chic came le money. Chefs, sous-chefs, chefs garde-manger, captains, waiters—almost anyone with an authentic accent found that he, too, could own a restaurant. Famous names became quiet backers, competing to make the next more beautiful than the last. Decorators superseded packagers, laying on expensive good taste as though it were frosting on a wedding cake.

     Writers’ poured adjectives, reservations were impossible and prices took off like lost balloons.

     For the purpose of our survey, we made an arbitrary selection from among only the entime and the beautiful where food, ambiance and people combine to a heady and costly whirlwind. We eliminated the modestly priced—including some favorites—and also restaurants such as the Tower, Escoffier, Bernard's, Scandia, etc, which seemed to be hitched to a different star. It was not our purpose to find the best French restaurant in town.

     Over a period of months, we went forth separately, compared notes, agreed, disagreed, returned and talked some more.

     We considered the experience as a whole. Were we transformed to another world? Were our knowledge and understanding advanced? Were we smoothed when we entered, excited when we left?