By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Patrick Esquerré compares himself to God. Not in a megalomaniacal way but in an almost self-deprecating sense. Back in 1983, Esquerré successfully took an idea for a French bakery and café and multiplied it into more than 60 offspring sloughing off revenues topping $100 million. That first Le Madeleine was on Mockingbird Lane.
Chicken tortilla soup: $3.50
Shrimp tamale: $4.25
Mushroom risotto: $3.75
Beef with skillet corn sauce: $12.75
Chicken olive: $10.50
Soup and salad: $5.99
One-half smoked salmon sandwich: $4.25
Chicken panang: $10.25
Pecan cheesecake with caramel sauce: $3.50
When one looks at his growth numbers in a vacuum, maybe Esquerré has a right to compare himself to God. Yet when he sold his stake in Le Madeleine in 1997, he left behind a company wincing from growing pains, afflictions that included sluggish sales, internal bickering and a lack of systems and training and development programs. His concept glistened. His company was a lusterless dynamo grinding itself into a puffy mound of fine corrosion.
But Esquerré got out. "I was retired, I think, for six days," he says. "God did it the other way. God worked six days, and then he retired the seventh day...But after six days, I realized that doing nothing in life is not something for me. So on the seventh day came an idea."
On the surface, Esquerré's idea looks like...well, it looks like Anna Nicole Smith dressed to the nines in a fire engine-red leather sundress, yellow spandex, high-heeled slippers with fur puffs on the toe straps and spicy shrimp tamales as bust-point tassels. There's so much high-voltage red in Café Patrique you almost feel as though you've stumbled into a dining room on Anna Nicole's lip. Red drips from everywhere: the walls, the artwork, the ductwork, the table bases and the counter in front of the kitchen, which looks like it was pieced together from the chop shop remains of a hot-wired fire engine. Other walls and accents are seared in kayak yellow. Esquerré says he chose these colors because they are the color of the sun--maybe, if the sun was made in Las Vegas instead of on God's fourth day of work.
But the most daring design movement in this takeout cafeteria is the bathrooms. The men's room is drenched in red with various phrases of wisdom scrawled in yellow concerning life, laughter and good eating, the kind of wisdom you might find in Chinese restaurants if Hallmark cornered the market on fortune cookies. Under the sink is a basketball hoop and net. "The toilet seats are mine," says Esquerré proudly. Letters, numbers and various punctuation marks are painted by hand, it seems, on the toilet seat and the toilet paper dispenser. I'm not sure what he's composed on the seat in the ladies' room, because I couldn't get anyone to go in there with a Polaroid.
Yet there really is a method to all this loudness. Esquerré says his quest with Café Patrique is to create inexpensive, creative gourmet food. The best way to do this, he contends, is through a café where people can sample "and then love the food" and want to take it home with them in sealed vacuum-packed wrappings. And that's basically what Café Patrique does. Everything is fresh. Everything is prepared in a kitchen off-site and shipped to the restaurant. Esquerré says that his model of a centrally located kitchen with a brood of satellite cafes (he intends to expand the concept) feeding off of it is more efficient and economical. Maybe he's learned a lot from his experience with Le Madeleine. To enhance the possibility for capturing profits, Esquerré has attached a gourmet market to his café, where everything from capers to wine can be bought and bagged. (The wine list in the restaurant has lots of imaginative bottlings at sinful prices. I mean, who ever heard of enjoying a bottle of decent syrah in a restaurant for $12.75?)
To ensure Café Patrique plies food that people will be infatuated with, Esquerré employed a small flock of hot and heavy chefs as consultants. These puffed toques include Antoine Westerman, who has earned three Michelin stars at his restaurant in Strasbourg, France; former Riviera chef David Holben; and ex-Chow Thai Pacific Rim chef Kenneth Mills. Also leaving a stamp on Esquerré's menu is that piece of Dallas glitterati Stephan Pyles. His creations are conspicuously called out on the menu: beef chili by Stephan Pyles; beef with skillet corn sauce by Stephan Pyles; spicy shrimp tamale by Stephan Pyles, and so on.
The muffin-like tamale was delicious. A disc of corn crust buttresses a smooth, delicate garlic custard that swaddles roasted tomato, onion relish and a single shrimp. Though the flavors merged brilliantly in all manner of spice, smokiness, acid and ubiquitous hints of sweetness, the corn crust was dry and gritty.
Esquerré and Pyles collaborated on the chicken tortilla soup, a lushly thick and zesty medium coddling scraps of avocado, jack cheese and chicken, the latter in surprising scarcity.
But Pyles' beef with skillet corn sauce is a perplexing orchestration. Though described as tender, our steak was spongy and stringy like a soggy round steak. Plus, the whole dish was bathed in a potent vinegary flavor, perhaps from the cabernet sauce, which gave the meat an alarming aftertaste. This entrée just came out all wrong, and knowing Pyles' near unmatched skills with Southwestern flavors, my guess is a mix-up occurred somewhere along the assembly line.
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