A Warm Welcome for Flora & Muse

"I'm surprised at how many people have already been coming on a regular basis," Hayri Gurbuz told me with a huge smile on his face yesterday afternoon. Part owner of Flora & Muse (12860 Queensbury), the newest addition to CityCentre's growing ranks of high-end, high-concept restaurants, the Turkish-born entrepreneur seemed giddy as he described a steady flow of "regulars," even though the restaurant has only been open for a week.

"They've come every day for the past six days," he grinned. Gurbuz briefed me on his philosophy of not being able to please everyone all the time, and instead concentrating on pleasing those customers that he thinks have potential to become regulars (even if they don't come every day) or those to whom the European cafe vibe appeals. "It's not for everyone," he admitted. He's a smart guy.

What appears to be an almost Ottoman influence in the style of the new restaurant/cafe seems to come from Gurbuz as well. The interior is divided into three distinct areas: a solidly European cafe with a flower shop and dessert counter; a restaurant with tall booths and a cozy, almost modern feel; and a watering hole area with a long, broad, looming bar that rises to the ceiling. It's this part of Flora & Muse that has the most Turkish feel to it, almost "baroque" as my friend Jenny Wang called it yesterday afternoon.

It's all exceptionally lovely.

Gurbuz is one of several partners behind the opening of Flora & Muse, including the beautiful Turkish film star Başak Köklükaya and several silent European partners, investing in the operation from overseas. It lends a very exotic, Ian Fleming-esque vibe to the place. And although the restaurant has been built inside of an extremely modern, extremely American development, it retains an ineffable Continental quality -- this is not a place that was designed by tourists.

I was unsure how Flora & Muse would turn out after reading the initial press release that was sent out. It sounded twee and heavy on the hideously outdated and overdone shabby chic. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead of a being simply a "project," this restaurant has an almost postmodern sense of purpose: It belongs in this neighborhood, and it's useful -- in more than one way. Its patisserie side, with high tea, crystal chandeliers and chic wallpaper, appeals to the "ladies who lunch" in the Memorial Villages and the wealthy enclaves west of the Beltway. Its richly appointed bar side with comfortable banquettes appeals to the younger crowd in the area, whether they live or just work out west. Its warm, cloistered restaurant side appeals to diners staying at the Hotel Sorella or just Memorial residents looking for a solid meal, thanks to Chef David Luna.

Luna was formerly the chef at both Shade and Canopy, so there are few concerns as to his pedigree or to the quality of the food he'll be serving out of the windowed kitchen (patrons can peek through and watch Luna and his team at work). Unfortunately, I was only able to try a few picked-over nibbles of the food on Sunday afternoon at the packed-house media event, so I can't really comment on how it tasted. I did manage to procure a few wistfully French macarons, however, and each delicate bite was exactly as it should have been, disintegrating on the tongue so quickly it was like waking from a vivid dream and trying desperately to remember it before it slips from the mind.

I also managed to indulge in a Bloody Mary and a citrus-lavender martini, each refreshing in their own way, especially once the midsection of the immense bar was opened to the shaded deck outside, revealing its ability to do double-duty for patio patrons (as well as to suck all the A/C out of the restaurant, which was my cue to leave). When the weather turns fair again, though, I imagine this bar -- both inside and out -- will be packed to capacity in the evenings.

Driving back inside the Loop, it occurred to me that some of the most different and exciting new restaurant openings lately -- as well as some of the best meals in town, generally speaking -- have been happening on the far west side. The Burger Guys, Arpi's Phoenicia Deli, Sushipop, and now Flora & Muse are just a few recent examples. Which leads me to ask: Why did I move away?

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