That Phil Romano is a brilliant visionary goes without question. He's tossed together some of the more lasting and legendary dining concepts such as Cozymel's, Macaroni Grill, and Eatzi's.
But what's the vision with We Oui? Romano propaganda describes it as a "concept...based on heavy French accents, serving affordable, Americanized French favorites..." The menu goes a little further: "When you meet someone who speaks English with a French accent, that's sensual and interesting...At We Oui, we'll captivate you by serving American with a sexy French accent."
This is what We Oui is straining to be: sexy. The exertion is evident: Its forehead is red; its veins are fat and pulsing with purple, the strain is so intense. We Oui lacks subtlety, stimulating little brushes of sensuality, or sly romance. After a few minutes here you feel like Paula Jones must have felt when she walked into Bill Clinton's Little Rock hotel room to watch him drop his pants and quip "kiss it." This is the sort of interesting sensuality pumping through We Oui.
Take a look at the decor. The space is dominated by a long, wavering bar where the rich and the fake link for lust. The look is cold, stark, and loud with lots of red and the visual static of "voluptuous signature lips" tattooed everywhere. Walls are plastered with repeating female faces washed in intense primary-color splashes. We Oui propaganda characterizes this touch as reminiscent of Andy Warhol. But it looks more like a blur of garish Patrick Nagel knock-offs. Above the bread station where loaves of baguettes rise (the bread is exceptional, by the way), there's a painting of the backside of a character dubbed "The Bun Man," who's wearing a "Oui" black leather jacket. Maybe Bun Man breaks wind with a sophisticated Gallic twang.
In the restrooms, French-language tapes loop with novel pick-up lines, ditties like "Do you have protection?" Yum. I can see that one working like a charm. Before you spit that one out, I suggest the protection afforded by an athletic cup.
We Oui is to the art of romance what packing live carp into a barrel of water and harvesting them with a sawed-off shotgun is to sport fishing. Roll the name a few times on the tongue. Is it "wee wee" (English) or Oui Oui (French)? Why, it's both. And of course the not too subtle wordplay inherent here is a French "yes yes" winking at an English "wee wee." I guess this is the ultimate male fantasy, that every woman will say yes yes to his wee wee at We Oui.
If you think this is nothing but raw sarcasm, consider the future We Oui maneuver Romano plans to implement. At last call, just before the restaurant closes and the rich trundle off with the fake, We Oui will distribute condoms with the following package copy: "From We Oui, For Your We Oui. We support the effort to eliminate the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases. We value you as a customer." Oh, and these sheaths of strenuous social consciousness are flavored with "kiss of mint."
Touching. But I'd rather have Romano's consciousness focused more on my palate than my pecker, because all of this double-entendre phallicism seems to have taken a toll on the food. Not that it's universally dismal. It's well priced and ample. Oysters are fresh, clean, and supple, while the crisp pommes frites are greaseless and phenomenally tasty.
The onion soup is delicious too. Not as intensely caramelized as other versions, the soup is capped with two melted-cheese throw rugs. The depths are laced with supple onion strips mopped in rich sweet flavor edged with a tangy bite.
Americanization is hard to pluck from the escargot, a plate of tawny-yellow shells planted in a viscous puddle of beurre blanc with chopped shallots and herbs. The plate is delivered with tongs and small two-pronged forks. Once pierced and pulled from the shells, the little knots of slug meat were cleanly moist and chewy, if a little bland.
The pté, planks of coarse graininess, was delicious as well, in all of its heartiness, surrounded by scatterings of cornichon slices, greens, chopped red onion, and a pudding-like slick of Dijon mustard.
But these were the best things sampled at We Oui. The rest was as forgettable as those pick-up lines in the restroom. Or worse. The house wines (white, red, rosé), even if they are only $3.50 a glass, are deplorable drinks--harder to toss back than a condom kissed with mint. These wines show no fruit, and taste little better than ascorbic acid dissolved in chilled water. It is here that the We Oui moniker actually has some lasting relevance. Even the "other wines by the glass" on the list don't hold up. The Merlot is flat, and the Vouvray has sulphur breath. If you want to drink wine here, pluck the bottles. The Jacques de Vital pinot noir ($20) was fresh and clean with lots of balanced fruit.