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RESTAURANTS : Pop! Goes Pretension--All Around the World

July 31, 1988|RUTH REICHL

It all started in Los Angeles. While the rest of the world happily got dressed up to go out and watch waiters sneer at their use of the wrong fork, we had different ideas. We were fed up with food museums.

People who had nice clothes and nice cars and could afford to eat anyplace they wanted were suddenly tired of the palaces of pretension. They decided that eating out should be fun. It was a radical idea. It was the start of a restaurant revolution.

And it caught on. Fancy expensive restaurants just didn't have the appeal that they once did. Wonderful new restaurants with talented chefs--places like Max Au Triangle and La Couronne--failed. They were simply too fancy. Wonderful older restaurants--like Les Anges and La Petite Chaya closed their doors too. Meanwhile, casual restaurants were so busy you could hardly get in the door. Seeing the writing on the wall, restaurateurs all over town started opening less-expensive spin-offs. Valentino opened Primi; L'Orangerie opened Pastel; Chaya Brasserie opened Flags. And it just keeps accelerating. Mauro Vincenti just opened Pazzia, which serves quality food at a fraction of the cost of his Rex. The Grill will open a little brother in about six weeks. And any day now Ken Frank will close La Toque, redecorate and re-create a more casual and less expensive restaurant on the spot.

"Nobody wants to put on a jacket and tie," says one restaurateur. "The words 'expensive restaurant' are becoming increasingly problematic," says another.

But we are not alone. It happened here first, but the rest of the world is catching on. A couple of weeks ago we reported on Maison Blanche, which is being called "the Spago of Paris"; it's the hottest table in that town. Now English food writer Alan Davidson takes aim at a famed French temple of gastronomy and questions the entire system of stars; when this article came across my desk I wanted to stand up and cheer. Meanwhile in London, Colman Andrews discovers what just might be the best restaurant in town--if only the management could manage to be a little snootier.

Can this possibly be the beginning of the end of pretension?

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