The Restaurant Week

In 1992, a small number of enterprising restaurants in New York City coordinated efforts to create the first of what would become “Restaurant Week.” These pioneer restaurants offered a lunch-only $19.92 prix fixe menu from Monday through Friday of the one week, and its great success has since altered the promotional schedules of restaurants throughout the world. From the entire country of Brazil to the city of Bangalore in India and almost everywhere else, diners can find opportunities to choose from specially priced menus for a limited time each year.

Each town’s, city’s, county’s, region’s and country’s Restaurant Week promotions are different. Some events last for only a few days, others are many days or only week days and may occur more than once a year. Prix fixe prices vary, also. There are Restaurant Week events that coordinate with area festivals or have  programs such as cocktail competitions, beer tastings or cooking exhibitions. The size and shape of the Restaurant Weeks are as varied as the places where they occur.

The original format for Restaurant Week may have changed as it expanded around the world, but in NYC the 3-course Prix Fixe remains the only available special menu even as the number of weeks it’s offered has increased.

With homage to the original NYC promotion, SoVT Restaurant Week offers a Prix Fixe 3-course menu at many fine dining restaurants in the southernmost Vermont counties of Bennington and Windham. The twice-yearly event is scheduled when it may be less crowded by seasonal tourism but still a beautiful area to visit. Many of the restaurants are part of some of the most remarkable New England inns while others are located in historic rural towns and small cities. A full list of participating restaurants can be found at the website http://www.sovtrestaurantweek.com

The Sprint 2014 SoVT Restaurant Week promotion features 3-course lunches for $20.14 and 3-course dinners for $30.14 between April 25th and May 4th.

The Spring 2014 SoVT Restaurant Week promotion features 3-course lunches for $20.14 and 3-course dinners for $30.14 from April 25th to May 4th.

Visit and “Like” our Facebook page for updates on all the information you need to plan your meals at the SoVT Restaurant Week!

www.facebook.com/SoVTRestaurantWeek

Where It All Begins

Bussers run the show at Brasserie L’Oustau. This entry-level position is one of the most important jobs in the entire operation and critical to providing constantly smooth and professional service overall. They must understand the importance of their responsibilities, be hyper-aware of what the most important thing is that needs to be done at every moment and then do it. Constantly moving, they are relied upon to be where they should be at all times.

You may never even notice the bussers at Brasserie L’Oustau because they’re constantly on the move.

Running a brasserie isn’t just about making food. Diners have an entire army of people working for them who have nothing to do with food preparation, but they’re the ones the customer is most likely to meet. These are the workers who at the end of the day are going to make the place sing or make it crash no matter how good the food is coming out of the kitchen.

When you dine with us shortly after you’re seated your water glass will be filled by a busser. Your busser may then bring your bread and butter, present your amuse bouche, supply appropriate tableware, bring your order from the kitchen, clear the dishes away and keep your water glass filled. Their responsibilities extend beyond your visit to include resetting the table with new linen and tableware, refilling sugar containers and salt shakers and pepper mills, polishing silver, wiping glassware and folding napkins, keeping the water pitcher filled… and that’s just the start of the list of what they are expected to do.

We interviewed two people recently, one a young man looking for a steady evening job while attending college and the other a recent high-school graduate. Neither candidate ever worked in a restaurant before. Both are bright, pleasant and very enthusiastic. Both have been hired.

Good bussers don’t stay bussers for long if they want to move up; it’s a quick promotion to server, hostess or sometimes even prep cook. With the promotion would come a higher salary and the possibility to benefit from the support of a busser.

Please know that your quiet busser will be given a percentage of the tip you leave; the server could not possibly be as good as they are without their help.

The Art of Being Seated

Let’s imagine that you’ve entered Brasserie L’Oustau for an early dinner and see there are many tables still unoccupied. You walk to the podium, tell the hostess the number in your party and that you have no reservation (it’s an early dinner, after all). The owner Michel Boyer and hostess take a quick look at a computer screen, murmur a few things to each other, confirm, ask you to follow one of them and you begin your journey into the maze of tables. What just happened? Why are you being led to THAT table?

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Welcome to Brasserie L’Oustau!

The computer display at the podium has a simple layout of all the tables and indicates which are currently occupied. Upcoming reservations are listed and tables for larger parties have been grouped. The servers have been assigned specific areas of the restaurant where they will be responsible for all those tables for the evening.

With that internal information, certain things are evaluated at the time you arrive such as which sections aren’t busy at the moment, which sections aren’t expecting reservations soon, which sections need your table to distribute the customers evenly, and which table is the “best” in the section that rises to the top. If you have a preference for a location (as in the front room, rear or upper dining area) you should feel comfortable to mention it as soon as possible.

The best table in each section constantly changes based on real factors: there are children (in your group or next to a table), the number in your party, the mood of your group (soft conversation or more jovial) and so on. Each of the criteria is assessed in the few moments Michel and the hostess consult the seating chart. Ultimately a table is chosen where they think you’ll be most comfortable based on your request, what they know about the available tables and what they perceive about your party.

There are other and more specific facts that could also determine which should be your table. If you’ve dined with us before and ask for a favorite server, he or she will be assigned a specific section where you will be seated. Also, in order to be able to seat walk-in parties of four or more, two tables for two will be left open next to each other as long as possible.

But even if there are many open tables it’s possible the restaurant will delay seating anyone without a reservation to accommodate meal prep timing in the kitchen. This is when you might be asked to wait in the bar for a few moments until your table is available. It is in no one’s interest to have too many customers ordering at the same time.

By now you understand that your table selection is a somewhat complicated process.

All that said, on the way to your table you might see a different one that you would prefer. Unless it is being held for a reservation arriving soon, that table will be yours. The ebb and flow of seating assignments will adjust to your request, and we wish you “bon appétit!”

OpenTable Reservations

Hops, Skitch and a Jump

The Brasserie L’Oustau style and menu, explained in an earlier article, can be traced to ancient French breweries; the proprietors would have developed menus to serve customers sampling the beer – the “Hops” in the title of this article.

The “Skitch” refers to the Brasserie L’Oustau bar itself which had been owned by reknowned musician and composer Skitch Henderson in New York City. Although the address or business name can’t be confirmed, the bar was purchased at auction in the late 1980s by the family who constructed our building, thus making the “Jump” to Vermont. Word creativity aside, the bar is one of the more salient features of Brasserie L’Oustau and fully dominates the eastern half of the restaurant’s interior.

Skitch Henderson came to visit his relocated bar before his death in 2005.

The handsome mahogany bar features three tall backboard mirrors separated and framed by stained glass oval sconces, and the carving details are bold enough to be noticed but not distract from its expansive top. It is truly a beautifully balanced piece of furniture.

The wood has been maintained and repaired over the years but it has not been refinished and retains its antique character and proof of years of appreciation. We look forward to adding many more years of appreciation and would love your help.

A detail of the base of the bar and brass foot rail.

http://www.hunthillfarmtrust.org/index.php?/museum/
http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/h/skitch_henderson/index.html

La Salade Niçoise

Any French brasserie worth the ink on their menu or chalk on their board will include an entrée dish named Salade Niçoise. Originating in the Provence city of Nice, the niçoise salad combines many tastes of the Mediterranean to create this meal-worthy mélange.

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The Salade Niçoise at Brasserie L’Oustau de Provence.

At Brasserie L’Oustau, Chef quickly sears a fresh thick tuna steak and places it sliced on a base of lettuce, brine-cured black olives, fingerling potatoes, tomatoes, haricots vert, boiled egg, capers, anchovy and fresh herbs all drizzled with his signature vinaigrette of aged wine vinegar and oil.

Salade Niçoise was popularized in America in the nineteen sixties by the celebrity cook Julia Child. Salads of that time for the most part had been simple greens sometimes daring to add a slice of avocado, but you might also have found one of the popular salads that had been formed in a gelatin mold. Julia introduced an entire country to the idea that a salad can be more than a side dish (or dessert). In fact, Americans learned that a salad can be really quite good.

Restaurants in the US sometimes include the Salade Niçoise but you will most often find the entrée salads are Grilled Chicken Caesar, Cobb or the old stand-by Chef’s Salad. None of these other salads encompass the tastes and essence of a region’s harvest the way the Salade Niçoise does Provence.

A Napkin is Very Intimate

It sits on your lap, touches your mouth and greets your greasy fingers with abundant appetite. A linen napkin is soft and pure and willing to embrace and forgive; its whole purpose is to absorb your every gastronomic misdirection, absolve you and hold all evidence on a folded square of fabric then removed.

If you’ve never considered cloth napkins before perhaps now you can; the quality of your dining experience really does depend on them.

Even before you sit at a restaurant table the napkin influences the impression you have of what is to come. The napkin may be folded like a swan gliding on a plate-lake in one restaurant, a tulip bursting from a water glass vase in the next, or lightly nesting the flatware in a simple fold in yet another.

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Glassware, linen and tableware – silverware, candle, salt and pepper, etcetera – are all an indication of the type of meal to come. Casual dining might have paper napkins around a simple fork and knife on a bare table; fine dining could poise soft linen in tall stemware at place settings of 6 or more pieces. In all cases your expectations of the meal begin with the napkin.

Brasserie L’Oustau folds its linen napkins simply to reflect the casual and respectful spirit of the brasserie. We take you to the table where you will settle and easily enjoy your dinner and our hospitality. There is no pretense or posturing about our brasserie experience and the simple napkin fold indicates you are at a comfortable restaurant with good food, service and community.

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The simple fold of the linen napkins at Brasserie L’Oustau make it easy for diners to settle themselves and continue on to their biggest challenge: deciding what to order from our extensive menu.

There is one exception to our “keep it simple” paradigm; the bread basket nestles sliced baguettes on linen with an “artichoke” fold. Sometimes we like to shake things up a bit.

http://www.napkinfoldingguide.com

Waiter! There’s a Dog In My Soup!

Many travelers to France would confirm they’ve seen dogs practically eat off the plates in restaurants throughout the country, but dogs in the US are almost never found inside restaurants. Surely Americans care about their dogs as much as the French, but is our anxiety about germs the cause or is there something else that keeps our pooches locked in the car or at home while we are dining out?

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Ella was allowed in the restaurant for this photo shoot on a day we were closed. A woman, thinking we were open, entered to have lunch and under her arm was a beautiful long-haired dachshund! It happened that she was visiting from France.

Both countries prohibit animals inside restaurants by law; only service animals can legally enter any restaurant. You might find a hand-bag-sized pooch on a diner’s lap discretely taking bits of food by hand, sometimes large dogs snooze below a table or keep watch at the door, but it is always at the discretion of the restaurant owner who would face fines if discovered by law enforcement. Restaurant owners in France are more lenient to allow dogs at the inside tables, but it is as illegal there as it is in the US.

Blame it on the local health ordinances. Or if you prefer, give credit to the local health ordinances. Although a clean and well-trained dog might be welcome in most places, an untrained dog can cause too many safety and hygiene problems in areas that are crowded with customers and their food, and at times even a well-trained dog can become unruly in a busy and noisy place. More restaurants in France are starting to prohibit dogs inside perhaps for the same reasons as in the States; a serious problem is more likely to occur or a customer to complain when a dog is involved.

In France and many areas of the US dogs are legally allowed at outdoor dining tables if the restaurant owner agrees to it and only if the tables are accessible without passing inside. Brasserie L’Oustau is fortunate to be in an area of Vermont where we can welcome dogs to all our outdoor tables, provide them with a bit of shade and a dish of water, and send them on their way with a home-made organic Bon-Bones™ treat! So be sure to bring your “Fifi” or “Olivier” when you come to enjoy a thoroughly French meal on the terrace at Brasserie L’Oustau.

http://www.bringfido.com/restaurant/state/vermont/
http://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/pet-travel/pet-friendly-restaurants.htm
http://suite101.com/article/with-a-dog-in-france–travel-hotels-restaurants–sightseeing-a263216