Le Perroquet Redux: Can Fine Dining Beat a Down Economy.?

Le Perroquet, once one of Chicago’s most civilized bastions of nouvelle French cuisine, is back in business. The new man at the helm is the respected and opinionated restaurateur Michael Foley, and the uppermost question in the minds of competitors and restaurant-scene observers is whether Foley, who also owns Printer’s Row in the South Loop, can make a fancy French restaurant work at a time when downscale dining and prices to match attract the most customers.

Famed restaurateur Jovan Trboyevic, who opened the original Le Perroquet in 1972 and sold it in 1985 so he could concentrate on his private dining club, Les Nomades, says he has not tried the new Le Perroquet. “I haven’t been invited and why should I go?” asks Trboyevic, adding, “The Le Perroquet I created was something else.”

Foley is quick to assert that the restaurant, set in quiet, intimate quarters on the third floor of 70 E. Walton, is back to stay even though the customer base for fine dining is shrinking. He insists, “This restaurant occupies a special niche in the local restaurant scene.”

If he is to succeed, Foley may have to employ some of the survival tactics his competitors use. Alan Tutzer, who operates both L’Escargot restaurants, says he has maintained market share by aggressively courting more than just what’s left of the high-end eating establishment. “We’re trying to hit the middle ground with a pretheater menu that’s $16.50,” explains Tutzer, “and if there’s a Cubs game we will open up early to accommodate them.”

Foley is no fan of the new wave of restaurants that generate big profits through high volume and low prices–places like Scoozi and the Old Carolina Crab House. “I personally don’t like being treated like a piece of cattle,” says Foley, “and I take issue with people who don’t get value for the dollars they spend at many restaurants.”

One of just a handful of Mobil Guide five-star eateries in the U.S. throughout most of the 1970s and ’80s, Le Perroquet lasted 18 years with its reputation mostly intact before quietly shutting its doors in January 1991. Though he prefers not to discuss the past, Foley suggests the reason the restaurant stumbled and finally collapsed was its failure to keep up with changing tastes.

Foley has made changes without losing what he feels was Le Perroquet’s unique quality. The menu is still printed in French, but along with English translation. The food is prepared with a lighter touch by chef Didier Durand, formerly of Gordon and La Boheme, and both prix fixe and a la carte menus are available. Foley has, at least for the moment, also kept prices in check: a four-course prix fixe lunch costs $22.50 and a seven-course dinner costs $38.50, down from $55 when Le Perroquet closed early last year.

Though Foley says traffic is building, the curious and the hungry have not yet beaten a path to his door. Foley maintains that’s no surprise. “I never thought that would be the case.”

Art of the State Awards

If, as some arts aficionados argue, artists don’t get enough respect in Illinois, art dealer Richard Love and former governor Jim Thompson are trying to improve the situation through the formation of the Illinois Academy of Fine Arts, an odd little awards organization of which Thompson is board chairman and Love is president.

Founded in 1990, the not-for-profit group’s stated purpose is to “identify, recognize and honor persons, both living and deceased, who have made outstanding contributions to the arts in Illinois.” Love believes Illinois is the only state where such an entity has been formed. The academy’s primary means of recognizing such achievement will be an annual awards ceremony. The inaugural event, which is free and open to the public, takes place July 18 in the Arthur Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute. A group of advisers selected candidates for the awards in 17 categories, including curators, benefactors, educators, collectors, scholars, critics, and painters. The board of directors will select the winners.

Though ostensibly a statewide affair, the roster of candidates reflects a Chicago-area bias. Three of the five candidates in the collector, critic, and architect categories are from Chicago, as are all the candidates in the arts support-art schools category. For an awards event intended to honor Illinois residents, it’s also disconcerting to note 14 candidates who have moved out of state.

The academy’s approximate $125,000 annual operating budget is solely made up of corporate and individual donations, and undoubtedly the organization will last as long as the funding does. But if the money doesn’t give out first, the group may well expire after it has meted out awards to all the individuals its board of directors feel compelled to honor.

Falls Again

Here’s an update on what Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls may be doing next season:

On June 29 this newspaper received a copy of a press release dated June 25 with a headline that read: “Goodman Theatre Names Michael Maggio Associate Artistic Director.” Buried on page two of the release is the following paragraph: “As associate artistic director, Michael Maggio will have primary responsibility for the day to day producing of the Goodman’s 1992-93 season, and along with the Goodman artistic staff, the planning of the 1993-94 season.” The release went on to state that Falls “will direct Steve Tesich’s On the Open Road at the New York Shakespeare Festival” next season.

On June 30 a spokesman at the New York Shakespeare Festival press office, when asked whether On the Open Road had been placed on the schedule for the festival’s upcoming season, said, “We don’t know anything about it.” Asked if a contract had been signed to present the Tesich play, the spokesman added, “We would know if that was the case.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.