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Monica Pope's hopes for her baby Bistro

Foodie fans of chef/restaurateur Monica Pope won't have to wait much longer for the opening of her baby bistro, only two doors north of her original Boulevard Bistrot [4319 Montrose Boulevard, (713)524-6922]. The new 43 Brasserie -- a nickname that sprang from its street address, 4315 Montrose, and stuck -- is scheduled to open next month.

"We hope!" chorus Pope and partner Andrea Lazar.

The newborn cafe is designed to fill an entirely different niche from its five-year-old sibling's. "We don't want to compete with the Bistrot," explains Lazar, "we intend to complement it." While Boulevard Bistrot will firm up its reputation as a serious gourmand's "destination dining" spot serving full-scale lunches and dinners, Pope envisions 43 Brasserie attracting an all-hours crowd of museumgoers, shoppers, students and after-theater patrons for casual, French-inspired snacks or "suppers."

"For starters, we're shooting for everything on the menu to come in under $10," says Pope. "It'll be smaller bites, homemade soups and hot pressed sandwiches and good wines by the glass, the sort of thing you'd want to sit on a patio and nibble. And we'll serve breakfast all day long." Lazar chimes in: "Picture an omelette and a glass of wine on the terrace at midnight."

And of course there'll be coffee concoctions, European, Vietnamese and Mexican-style, but also fresh-squeezed juices, luxury-blend teas, herb tisanes and even nut and soy milk drinks. "After all, not everyone wants that coffee jolt all the time," says Pope, "even if it sometimes does seem that way with the coffee house craze."

Pope and Lazar have struggled six "slow and scary" months to renovate the old house that Lazar sometimes suspects "doesn't want to be a restaurant." The finished product promises to be breathtaking, though, with two-story seating for 200, inside and out. Upstairs, a new deck and expanse of windows will let in light filtered through the branches of an enormous live oak. "Those windows are so big and so beautiful," says Lazar. "We really spent some money on them," adds Pope wryly. Color will shape the downstairs room, terra-cotta and yellow and pale green, dominated by a cobalt-blue terrazzo tiled counter 30 feet long. As at the Bistrot, French doors will open onto a street-level patio dining area; behind the counter, glass cases will be plentifully stocked with Pope's justly famous handmade pastries.

"We're thinking simple baked goods, espresso brownies, galettes citron, beautiful fruit tarts, that sort of thing," explains Pope. "And we're going to do all of the pastries in-house; we'll consolidate the pastry operation at 43 Brassiere for both restaurants. I mean, we decided if we can't do all these things we want to do ourselves, it's just not worth doing at all."

With the expansion, Pope and Lazar hope to create their own individualized strip within the messy jumble of Montrose south of Richmond. "Now it's hard to see us in between those other buildings in the middle of the block. People drive right by and miss us. When 43 Brasserie opens, we can extend our look and sort of New Orleans feel up the street," explains Pope. "This could be our marquee and visibility for both restaurants."

Construction should finish up right before Christmas, if all goes according to plan. Then watch the new space closely, because the projected January opening of 43 Brasserie will be soft -- very soft, says Pope. Expect service to start slowly with just breakfast and lunch, "while we find our feet," says Lazar. "Maybe we'll just quietly turn on the lights and see what happens."

 
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