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Call It the Second French Revolution.

January 11, 1998|JOSEPH HANANIA

Three years ago, the city's French chefs realized they were losing ground to their Italian counterparts, whose food was cheaper and whose persona was--how to put it?--less snooty. And so the Club Culinaire Francais, an informal association of the region's major French chefs, hit on a counterstrategy. They invited selected customers to sup alongside leading chefs in monthly Chefs a Table promotions.

After each of the five courses, the chefs would switch tables in a sort of musical tables. Thus, the chefs "could show they are regular guys," said club president Pascal Olhats, who owns a restaurant in Orange County.

That, anyhow, was the original plan. But something else happened along the way. The promotions became popular in themselves, with a recent Monday night dinner at La Cachette in West Los Angeles, a night when most restaurants are sparsely attended, garnering nearly 100 customers, at $80 apiece.

Moreover, some patrons like Rich Roberts, manager of a Buena Park auto parts store, prefer the promotional events to conventional restaurant dining, because "the chefs compete with each other, outdoing each other with their best dishes."

Typical was the dinner prepared by chef Jean Francois Meteigner of La Cachette, including quail egg and caviar hors d'oeuvres; lobster and Dungeness crab bisque soup; skate raie with raspberry vinegar sauce; roasted guinea hen in savoy cabbage chartreuse and passion fruit Napoleon, each of the five courses served up with its own wine, naturellement.

Teacher Susan Froelman, who lived in Paris for nine years, said she likes to come because typically in L.A., "Dinner's done after half an hour. In France, a dinner might take several hours. It's better for the health and heart, and there's a richer interaction [between diners]."

And, in the meantime, notice all the nice, new French spots around town? Pas mal.

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