Sex appeal in a restaurant isn't just intimate ambience, seductive music or a menu filled with luscious, potent aphrodisiacs; it's a combination of all those things. The result of the meal should be an intense desire to ditch dessert after a couple of bites, dash home and take off all your clothes. (Think of the dining scene in the movie Tom Jones, where Albert Finney and his saucy wench lustily devour their supper, staring at each other with libidinous abandon.) A few local restaurants set the mood for love right away. Piropos, with its romantic view and succulent steaks, comes immediately to mind, as does Café des Amis -- such a secluded spot for secret dining a deux -- and Le Fou Frog, where the Left Bank bonhomie is contagious, and Jasper's, which is much more beguiling in its casual surroundings than it was in its former, highly formal location.
Add the city's newest French restaurant, Aixois, to the list of sexy scenes. The two-month-old bistro gets its romantic allure from its attractive young owners, Megan and Emmanuel Langlade. The couple -- she a local girl, he a native of Aix-en-Provence -- fell in love while they were working at another restaurant, eloped, had a baby and opened their own place. They've carved a long, narrow dining room out of what was once a portion of the old Crestwood Gallery.
The room has a lot going for it: big plate-glass windows looking out on a shady patio, oversized mirrors on the far wall, wooden beams and surfaces painted in the shades of Van Gogh's sunflowers and Toulouse-Lautrec's russet reds. But with so many hard surfaces, the acoustics are terrible -- it's impossible to whisper sweet obscenities, especially when the place is packed. "We're doing something about that," says Megan, who has hired a sound consultant. And who cares about talking when there's food and l'amour, baby?
Aixois has been hot since the minute the Langlades threw open the glass-paned doors, although not everyone has been receptive. "I don't want to wait for a table," sniffed my friend Linda, who hurries to new restaurants the way that the terminally hip rush to gallery openings. "And besides, I don't trust a restaurant with a name I can't pronounce."
It's pronounced "Ex-wah." The Langlades chose the name after considering and then discarding a dozen or more. They considered Déjà Vu, until Megan took her children to Swope Park and saw a banner that said "Deja Zoo." And they wanted something that would reflect chef Emmanuel's personality. "He's from Provence, making him an Aixois," Megan says. "We knew people would have a hard time pronouncing it and an impossible time finding it in the phone book. But we knew if the restaurant was good enough, people would find us."
And they have, often waiting an hour or more for a table. But happily, the Langlades have lifted their archaic reservation policy (only available for parties of six or more). Megan now takes "limited" reservations for smaller groups, she says. "I want it to remain a neighborhood bistro," she says. "A place where people can just walk in, if they want."
I walked in three times and waited for a table only once, during the weekend dinner rush. And I didn't mind waiting, because the people-watching was tres bon. The scene-makers had arrived first, to earn their bragging rights: the lacquered Mission Hills contingent, the over-thirty mod squad, the social-climbing yuppies. On later visits, I saw that the younger neighborhood residents -- lithe and attractive, full of laughter and joie de vivre -- were joining the crowd. All were blabbing over plates of buttered bread and charcuterie (slices of prosciutto, imported Italian sausage and a mellow house-made, chicken-liver mousse) or tender and garlicky escargot bubbling in a buttery broth.