Sunday, February 15, 2004

Thoughts on Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

Someone from outside of Chicago asked me about a couple of LEYE places that were opening up near him. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) is the dominant restaurant group in Chicago. They are well known for creating more than just restaurants but restaurant concepts. Like Disney, LEYE attempts to assault your inner and outer mind in such a way that the experience is much more than it seems. In my e-mail on LEYE, I made a few comments about LEYE that I thought were worth blogging. I would be interested in comments.

First, do not count me AT ALL as a basher. Some of their places are too cutesy, too much concept over substance, but others work just right, both as concept and as food. Moreover, I do not buy the theory of some, like my friend GWiv, that the clone is always inferior. I think at times LEY has duplicated places quite well. It does not always happen, but it is not impossible.

My biggest complaint I guess with Rich Melman is that he fiddles too much. Obviously, he has reasons, both the keep places fresh, and because he has the data of what sells, but I rarely approve his adjustments. Quite contrary, I like the way he starts. Melman, like me, seems to have a huge fetish with old fashioned dining, especially kind of a 40's-50's era archtype--e.g., that is the decor and style of Shaw's. Often, he will pepper the opening menu's with odes to this era, but as the longer the places are open, the more he seems to replace the classics with dumb contemporary style dishes. Think salmon and pasta. I wish he would stick to his convictions. Also, I believe he has had a mixed record in his re-vampls. I like Mon Ami Gabi more than Un Grand Cafe and I suppose Tru is much better than Avanzare even if I have been to the latter not the former, but I much liked Hat Dance over National 27 and Bones over L.Woods.

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