About this time last year, Patrick Clark knew he was in trouble. This was ironic, because to outsiders everything about Patrick Clark seemed to be going right.
After years as one of New York's hottest chefs--he cooked at the very hip Odeon and Cafe Luxembourg--he had achieved his long-time dream of opening his own restaurant, Metro, on the Upper East Side. His business, at least during the holiday season, seemed to be booming. And critics loved his garlic-spiked clay-roasted chicken, his Napoleon of foie gras, his way with fish. They called it revolutionized American food. Seymour Britchky put Clark's smiling face on the cover of the 1990 edition of his popular restaurant guidebook. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Clark was a star on his own turf.
But even stars have to pay the rent. And Clark's rent at Metro was $17,000 a month. To meet costs, Metro had to serve 175 to 180 dinners a night.
"We had a great, loyal clientele," Clark says now. "We were doing 120, 130 covers a night, but it just wasn't enough."
Last January, Metro's business plummeted. "We knew it was going to be slow," Clark remembers. "We said, 'OK, we'll buckle our belts for the winter and in the spring business should come back.' "
Clark cut his payroll and dropped his prices 10%. In the spring, business did return, but not in the numbers that he'd hoped for. "By mid-March," Clark says, "we were going week-to-week."
Knowing that Metro couldn't survive another slow summer on the Upper East Side, Clark decided to close the restaurant. As he puts it, "We succumbed to the woes of New York."
When Clark showed up at Bice in Beverly Hills two months ago, several food insiders speculated that owner Roberto Ruggieri had brought him into the critically maligned restaurant only to get reviewers back in the restaurant. Clark, who trained with France's Michel Guerard (three-star creator of nouvelle cuisine), is too good a chef for anybody serious about food to ignore. Some hoped Clark would stay at Bice just long enough to get some attention for the place, and then open his own Los Angeles restaurant--many eyed the empty Bice-owned space on La Cienega once occupied by Bistango, Bice Pomodoro and the short-lived Le Bilboquet.
The first reports about Clark's arrival at Bice were especially suspicious: Clark was supposed to share duties with Pino Pasqualato, Bice's executive chef from the beginning. Many wondered how two head chefs could work together in one kitchen.
As it turned out, the dual-chef arrangement was never meant to be permanent. "Pino and I were together one month," Clark says. "He showed me the ropes of the restaurant, helped me break in with the crew, introduced me to some of the purveyors . . . and taught me about pasta." Then Pasqualato went to New York to head the kitchen at the New York Bice.
Meanwhile, Clark, his wife and their four kids have moved into a rented house in Mar Vista and plan to stay at least the length of Clark's contract.
"I don't know the future," Clark says, "but I do know I'm going to be at this Bice for at least two years. Beyond that, we'll see--besides, I don't want to scare Roberto right away."