"It smells like a barn in here."
That's what my pal said the moment we took our seats in the vast dining room at Paris Club, the second restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You's R.J. and Jerrod Melman, a radical remake of the more classically oriented Brasserie Jo. It hit me too, a strong, slightly sweet funk anyone who's ever spent time on a farm might describe as . . . bovine.
I thought perhaps it had something to do with the gas problems the restaurant suffered on their second night in business, and I made a note to take some investigative whiffs on subsequent visits. That's why most professional food critics eat at restaurants more than once before they write about them—to determine whether problems are incidental or consistent. If the smell persisted I'd guess that would be a serious problem for the heirs to Empire Lettuce.
In the meantime, I began to hear the rumors circulating among industry folks: the miasma, they said, arose from the floor, salvaged from an old French barn the Melmans purchased, deconstructed, and installed, which failed to disperse after repeated cleanings and refinishings. That certainly would be a disaster, and one could sympathize with the boys, still green restaurateurs relative to Daddy Rich's vast experience.
On my next visit another chum picked up the scent immediately, and couldn't put it out of his mind through our entire meal.
We weren't alone in noticing the aroma. These ladies did. And Yelpers caught it too, though none characterized it as manure-like. They called it—with typical clarity—"funky-leathery," "weird," or like "a bouquet of flowers when it starts to go bad in the vase." Our server acknowledged that there had been customer complaints and that the odor had resisted several floor treatments. And last night when I popped in, there it was again: the scent of ordure, lingering like a Baby Ruth in a swimming pool.
I put in a call to Paris Club publicist Kathleen Henson, who said the problem arose from a section of the floor in the bar that hadn't been properly treated. Those rumors about the French barn? False. The salvaged wood came from a number of sources, she said, though her original press release stated the build out employed “distressed wood floors and reclaimed barnwood tables.” If all the powers at LEYE's disposal couldn't properly deodorize that section of the floor, she promised, they'd tear it up and replace it.
Fair enough, and best of luck. But I got to thinking: shortly before Paris Club opened, the staff staged a handful of "practice dinners" to which they invited media, friends, and other "VIPs." This is a common event in the restaurant industry, though the hosts are generally less concerned about practicing than they are about generating positive buzz.
And buzz the Melmans got. Plenty of attendees blogged about these comped dinners, posting pictures, bragging about their access, and squealing about the "energetic vibe", the "charcuterie platter fit for King Louis," the "great" service, and the "flaky, tender" Black Bass Amandine. They. All. Just. Loved it.
Curiously, not one of these well-fed VIPs mentioned anything about the smell.
As a matter of policy, the Reader doesn't attend restaurant previews (not that we were invited to these). We prefer to give you, discerning reader, an unbiased analysis of a restaurant's quality and value on our own dime, no sooner than one month after the doors have opened. You know, so the restaurant has had enough practice. So I can't tell you what it smelled like on those particular nights. But I still think these smitten posters raise a fair question:
Do free restaurant previews render food bloggers insensible to shit?
You can read my review of Paris Club here.