Quillec, who opened the intimate Café Provence (3936 West 69th Terrace in the Prairie Village Shopping Center) on August 21, has his eyes on a Plaza location for an Italian restaurant. And why not? Since the short rise and fall of Trattoria Luigi, the Plaza has only two Italian restaurants at the moment -- Buca de Beppo and Figlio. "I can't talk about it until the space comes open," Quillec says, but he's hoping to open something in "six months to a year."
In the meantime, he's turned his attention to creating the ambience of a French country bistro in the little strip-mall space once occupied by Osteria al Villagia (and before that, Minsky's Pizza). Quillec, a native of Brittany, has given the place a makeover that the legendary Parisian designer Coco Chanel might have applauded. Gone are any vestiges of a typical suburban eatery; Quillec and his partners have brightened up the place with buttery cream walls, lace curtains and toile draperies.
Over the granite-topped bar, a television is set to a Paris-based cable channel all day. The new space is complete with copies of the French daily Le Monde and a coffee press instead of ordinary brewed java, for an instant jolt of Gallic electricity.
Quillec calls the restaurant, which serves both lunch and dinner, "upscale casual." That describes not only the restaurant's décor and appointments (white china plates, crystal carafes, cloth napkins) and clientele (so far, predominantly residents of Prairie Village and tony Mission Hills) but also the menu: lobster bisque flavored with Armagnac, pan-seared rack of lamb with Dijon mustard, a saffron-scented bouillabaisse and a lovely chocolate mousse.
"You know me," Quillec shrugs. "I like to do fine dining in a casual setting."
Much farther south, the setting will also be casual on Sunday, September 9, when cookbook author Joan Nathan shows off her recipe for caramelized green olives at the Jewish Arts Festival at the Jewish Community Center (5801 West 115th Street). A variety of local restaurants and food vendors will be selling kosher fare, but Nathan, who just published The Foods of Israel Today, will be the only culinary celebrity. The Washington, D.C.-based writer will sign copies of her book and encourage festival patrons to purchase samples of the sweet yet briny baked olives.
"They sound very strange, but they're delicious," says Nathan. "A great example of what I call new-Israeli cooking. I like the taste of sweet and savory together. You can serve them as hors d'oeuvres or with a roast chicken."
Or, better yet, with a thick stack of barbecued beef (on a previous visit to town, Nathan visited Arthur Bryant's) and french fries, mixing up all kinds of cultural history in a single meal.
"But Israel's cuisine is a blend of different cultures and styles," says Nathan, whose research uncovered the history of falafel, pita bread and the Jerusalem artichoke, which isn't native to Israel at all -- it's an American import, via Italy and Peru.
"The Jerusalem artichoke is a member of the sunflower family," she says, "and the name derives from the Italian word for the flower, girosel." Which makes it perfectly at home in Johnson County, Kansas.