|Chef de cuisine Doug Rankin (left), with Shook in black to the right|
1. Get there early unless you're the first (i.e. 6 PM) reservation of the night. The doors don't open until 6 PM no matter what, so you'll end up sitting outside looking at the strip-mall parking lot. And yes, it is the place under the well-lit Raffallo's sign. Speaking of parking, there's a parking lot! So if you get there early, you may score a spot. Just don't try to park in the one space that has a chair with a sign taped to it, saving the space for the Thai restaurant next door. There isn't valet, but you can try for street parking after 7 PM.
2. Everyone gets a rousing "Bonsoir!" when you walk in the door, much like hearing "Irasshaimase!" when you walk into a sushi bar. It makes sense, since this place is about as big as a sushi bar, with an open kitchen and the chefs hand-delivering your food across the counter and even at the tables. It does make you smile.
3. Immediately upon sitting down, the show begins. There is no time to dilly. First you'll get a palate-cleansing sipper - ours was made with arugula-infused dry vermouth, Meyer lemon shrub and a bit of Chartreuse - and then the meal starts immediately. Lefebvre happened to be out of town, so chef de cuisine Doug Rankin (a recent 30 Under 30 winner) was running the show under the watchful eye of Shook. Shook explained that Lefebvre oversees the menu, and he and Dotolo are the operations side of things. But when the chef is out, everyone's on deck. The team of young chefs worked the stoves and grill, with Rankin expediting throughout the evening. He'll begin by handing out a series of amuse bouche - fried salt-and-vinegar buckwheat grains in little finger bowls that taste like Grape Nut crunchies and were completely addictive; morels with ramp butter; little boneless chicken wings topped with crispy sesame seeds and a dab of mustard. And then dinner arrives.
4. The prix fixe menu will probably change once a month. At least for now, we're told, that's the goal. The dishes are creative but more restrained and approachable then we've seen on some of Lefebvre's adventurous Ludobites menus. It's also a lot lighter than most of the Animal/Son of a Gun dishes you immediately think of (no poutine, for example). For now, that means plump green and white asparagus with lardo, a smear of eggy yolk and yuzu, and crisp brioche crumbs; grilled carrots with a tangy vadouvan sauce, yogurt, avocado and watercress; potato "pulp," fluffy potatoes pushed through a ricer, topped with brown butter, bonito flakes and onion soubise (the flavors reminded us of au gratin potatoes from family gatherings); shallot broth poured over a gorgeous rib cap and spelt, a fun interpretation of French onion soup; and strawberries served with almond ice cream, olive oil cake and rose-water ice. The wine pairings ($49 per person) were on the mark, poured by manager Ashley Ragovin (also a 30 Under 30er), all making one beautifully cohesive meal. Check out the slide show below for more. P.S.: We're absolutely in love with the plates: some beautiful, traditional French china, others earthy, hand-thrown pottery. Quite the contrast, which really plays into whom the owners are, how you're eating there and the experience as a whole.
5. Don't expect to linger. With only 26 seats and no bar, there is nowhere to sip a glass of wine or coffee before or after your meal. You sit, you're served, they're charming, you leave. We took our time eating and still finished in less than two hours, and only hit that because we had an espresso (and then ran into friends who sat next to us as we were leaving). Most two-tops sit at the counter, with the few tables reserved for four to six people. Something to keep in mind when reserving, especially if you want to see the show up close and personal.