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Chefs' Defection

Comings and goings: About the time that the Press' recent review of benjy's hit the streets, executive chef Dennis Boitnott left the employ of that young cafe to concentrate on his business of making fresh pastas and supplying them wholesale to restaurants. Owner Benjamin Levit calls Boitnott's leaving a "friendly parting" and a "mutual decision." He also advises that, for now, benjy's isn't looking for a new head chef, but rather that he'll try a "team approach" with the "talented" staff already working in the kitchen. As is often the case after a parting of the ways in the volatile restaurant scene, one wonders what isn't being said.

Patio scene: After my decidedly mixed experience at Saints and Sinners, I'm paying more attention to restaurants that make it part of their theme to offer fat- and calorie-conscious options. Seduced by the spring weather we've had, perfect for an evening meal outside under the temple of palm trees that is Armando's patio, I recently supped on their vegetarian tacos, the most satisfying 400 calories I've enjoyed in a while. Packed into a couple of whole-wheat tortillas was a mix of black beans and low fat mozzarella cheese that was almost gooey enough to make me forget I was eating something good for me. Cumin and fresh cilantro undertones abetted the high flavor quotient, as did a side of nutty brown rice. But blah steamed vegetables did not. A vegetarian lasagna was also less than satisfying; my overpowering impressions of it were that it was oozy and slippery and tasted mostly of sun-dried tomatoes. A special of lamb chops in a sweet mushroom cream gravy was superb, however. My friend transformed what could have been a heart-stopper into a virtuous selection by asking for only one lamb chop instead of the three that compose a full order, thus making the simple, delectable grilled vegetables that came with it the centerpiece of her dinner. The understated, elegant simplicity with which this casual-chic eatery incorporates its lessons of doing the right thing for your body could be a model for other restaurants with similar ambitions. Now, if only they could transform their lethal margaritas into health food ....

More comings and goings: Speaking of Armando's, you may have noticed that the current tenant of its old location, formerly l'aventure cafe, has taken on a new name: Bistrot Aventure. The name change accompanies a change in ownership and a change in the kitchen. Courtney Leppard and Patrick Zone, who helped owner Daniel Drumnelweicz open the restaurant in March 1995 and have worked there in various capacities ever since, took over operations in late March of this year when Drumnelweicz left to go home to France. Much-praised executive chef Olivier Ciesielski is gone, too, having turned over the reins to former sous chef Truett Bishop. When asked what precipitated all these changes, Leppard will say only that Drumnelweicz and Ciesielski "have things to work out."

The food will still be French bistro style, and other than the lunch menu, which will be expanded to include more sandwiches and lighter fare, no major menu changes are planned. Except, that is, for a general price reduction on many items of 15 to 20 percent. Leppard makes the point that a restaurant trying to be a home-style bistro needs to reflect that ambiance in prices that compel a customer to be a "once a week" regular instead of "once a month." I say anything that motivates a restaurant to send its prices in the rare downward direction sounds like inspired reasoning.

Armando's, 2300 Westheimer, 521-9757; Bistrot Aventure, 1811 South Shepherd, 527-9800.

Armando's:
vegetarian tacos, $8.95.

 
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