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Chef Yannick Cam, who introduced Washingtonians to nouvelle cuisine via his much-decorated Le Pavillon, doesn’t get as much love as he used to in this town. Le Paradou, Cam’s luxe French operation in Penn Quarter, reached only No. 43 on the Washingtonian‘s Top 100 restaurants list this year, and it didn’t even make the cut in the Post‘s 2008 Dining Guide.
Now comes the news via Metrocurean that Cam and co-owner Mike Klein are shuttering Paradou at the end of April. The economy, of course, is the culprit. Well, that and “the outrageous rent we pay here,” says Cam this afternoon via the phone.
“We tried to renegotiate it, but they didn’t accept it,” Cam says.
So will Cam use the closing as an excuse to get out of the kitchen and retire?
“No, no, no,” he says. “I’m going to be looking for another place.”
He wants to open something less formal than Le Paradou, something closer in spirit to Provence, his well-regarded restaurant in the West End that, in the 1990s, produced refined versions of Southern French cooking. Fine dining, Cam says, “requires too much of an investment and too much work,” not to mention a ton of staff training. The chef is eyeballing McLean as a possible location, but he has no actual space yet.
For those who don’t remember or who were not around, Provence was a favorite among critics during its lifetime. In 1996, the Washingtonian gave it two stars; a year later, the magazine awarded it three stars and had this to say:
Yannick Cam’s menu — its four pages of closely spaced print offer well over twice the number of dishes found at other luxury restaurants — could serve as the outline for a substantial cookbook. As though this were not enough, waiters at dinner recite a seemingly endless list of specials. One of these, recently sampled, reaffirmed Cam’s reputation as a culinary genius: a gratin of eggplant, larded with tiny bits of salt-cured anchovies and topped with slices of sea scallops cooked just long enough to make them firm yet not so long as to diminish their natural sweetness.
By 1998, Cam was no longer chef at Provence. He was pushed out in an ugly battle with the owner. Cam would launch Paradou in 2003.
Photo courtesy of Le Paradou