Restaurant News & Reviews

Brothers team up for Savoy

By the strict dictionary definition, Savoy owners Pete Gibson and Marshall Smith are half brothers. But they prefer to leave out the "half" part. Their relationship is clearly a close one and goes beyond their common bond with their mother (Jo Smith, who helps out in the restaurant's office and playfully refers to herself as the "momager").

Both brothers are classically trained chefs with a passion for food that goes back to their childhood. Though their separate career paths have taken them to various restaurants locally and abroad, each wound up at one point working in the kitchen of Michelin-starred chef Jean-Michel Bouvier in the French region of Savoie. The name of their first restaurant, which they opened in March, is a tribute to that common experience.

So is their seasonally changing menu, an homage to French cuisine filtered through the perspectives of two young, well-traveled chefs. Just which chef is responsible for the foie gras with sweet potato crêpe and which for the pan-seared scallops with truffled white bean puree is impossible to discern, as Gibson and Smith insist that they're equals in the kitchen.

Then again, who cares? All that matters is that one of them was inspired to pair a classic terrine of pork, duck and foie gras with a blackberry gastrique -- a pairing that still haunts me weeks later. And that, more recently, someone's presentation of crab Louis -- immaculate jumbo lump crabmeat, hard-boiled egg, roasted red peppers and goat cheese mousse over julienne romaine dressed in a horseradish-spiked dressing -- took the heat right out of a sweltering July night.

Regardless of who is doing the cooking, and regardless of how far a particular dish strays from the classic French repertoire, chances are good that it will be memorable. At one end of the spectrum, French onion soup is as soul-satisfyingly rich as it is respectful of tradition. At the other, grilled jerk-style tuna with jasmine-scented rice and caramelized pineapple is convincing proof that a talented chef, or two, is at work in the kitchen. In the middle, a roasted sugar beet and goat cheese tart with fromage blanc and chive oil deftly walks a tightrope between tradition and innovation.

Even a simple mixed green salad with fig, pear and Roquefort crouton, splashed with lemon juice and olive oil, resonates with harmonious flavors and textures.

The occasional misstep is minor, and rarely the result of errant execution. Savoy's rendition of steak frites -- lean, tender strips of skirt steak liberally napped with béarnaise sauce and piled atop thick, steak cut fries -- is delightful, though not the dish that most would expect.

Quotation marks around "steak frites" on the menu would stave off any disappointment among those who might otherwise expect the traditional version. Paté en croute, ringed with jewel-like cubes of green peppercorn gelée, was only slightly marred by a pastry crust that had gone a bit soft.

The same softness of crust sometimes prevents dessert pastries from achieving their ideal.

Service is attentive, friendly and exceptionally polished for a restaurant that has been open for only four months. Familiarity with the wine list is variable among the wait staff, but that's not a problem with knowledgeable maître d' Garland Swann at hand to guide you. With an intelligently chosen balance of Old World and New World options and 18 selections available by the glass, you won't have any trouble finding a match for your palate.

Other than hanging the walls with framed landscapes of the French countryside, Gibson and Smith have made few changes to the dining room décor they inherited from the previous tenants, Fins and (briefly) Kin. As luck would have it, the setting, at once contemporary and warmly inviting, is well-suited to the menu.

"We decided to put our money in the kitchen instead of the dining room," Pete Gibson says, then goes on to describe the convection oven and French cooktop where he and his brother work their culinary magic.

I'd say their decision was doubly wise.

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