Restaurant Reviews

Molzan in Motion

Some observers of the downtown cafe melee were surprised -- but perhaps as many more were not -- by the abrupt disappearance of Kirk Graham and Leticia Guzman Graham from the management team of seven-month-old Staccato's [711 Main Street, (713)227-9141]. Word on the street is that the restaurant's money people became impatient with the dynamic duo, formerly of Dacapo's Cafe on the Parkway fame, and gave them an unceremonious heave-ho. "No, no, that's not it at all," Staccato's floor manager James Conway insists. "Kirk and Leticia still own shares in the restaurant, along with the majority owners, John and Darryl Hamilton. They really wanted to step back from day-to-day management. They're just more like silent partners now."

We couldn't help noticing that executive chef Dwayne Bosse quietly bailed out of Staccato's almost two months ago, docking in the calmer waters of Galveston's Yacht Club, and that Italian chef Maurizio Gulinello left about the same time, for parts unknown. But this does not, we are hastily assured, put a stop to the music at Staccato's. Former Dacapo's chef Ricky Cruz is going solo at the stove while the head-hunt is on for a stronger, sterner management team.

Here's where it gets weird, though: The latest scuttlebutt is that local chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Bruce Molzan, owner of Ruggles and Ruggles Grille 5115, is a strong contender for Fearless Leader of the Staccato's band. "Don't even bother to ask him about it," says an acquaintance familiar with the culinary operetta. "He'll only shrug, smile and say, 'We're talking about it.' "

Bear in mind that nine out of ten Molzan rumors are as rootless as tumbleweeds, spinning in the high winds of his personal hyperbole. Those who track such things gleefully recall rumored Molzan takeovers of the space occupied by the Q Cafe in Shepherd Plaza, or the Grange on Westheimer, which instead ended up as Sabine; the apocalyptic notion that he would take over Ousie's Table inspired some unprintably vivid denials this time last year. "I don't really listen to Bruce unless he's got a signed lease in his hands," dryly notes an acquaintance.

Still, it's a well-publicized fact that Molzan has hankered for a foothold downtown for years and since 1996 had his hopes pinned on the 220 Main condo makeover deal that flopped into foreclosure last month. But that wasn't Molzan's fault: He still has the lease for that one. Loft mogul Randall Davis has since snapped up the historic 12-story building and earmarked the project for rental units, not restaurants.

Of course the ink's reportedly dry on Molzan's deal with Drayton McLane, the Astros' owner, to open both a bakery and a behemoth sit-down restaurant in downtown's heavily hoopla-ed Enron Field; he's already planning a major millennial New Year's Eve event there for $250 a head. ("You know how the ball falls down at midnight in Times Square? Well, at Bruce's party the ball's going to fly up and out of the ballpark," explains Molzan's publicist.)

So is Bruce going to be very, very busy or what? "Oh, he just loves it hectic," says one observer. "It feeds his fire." After all, Ruggles Grille 5115 seems to be running smoothly since Ruggles's sous-chef Pedro Silva replaced executive Euro-chef Frederic Perrier in January, following Perrier's fiery fallout with Molzan in December. That little dustup ended with Molzan's describing Perrier as fleeing the U.S. in ill health (and afterward, it is said, disrespectfully defacing a Perrier publicity photo with sunglasses and a beard). Molzan's report of Perrier's fugitive status appears to have been a bit premature: Fred looks suspiciously healthy as he prepares for the April 19 opening of his own restaurant on Westheimer at Mid Lane. Cafe Perrier [4304 Westheimer, (713)355-4455] occupies the digs dug by the former Al Geranium's and will serve up Frenchified American cuisine to the tinkling of a baby grand piano.

-- Margaret L. Briggs

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Margaret L.Briggs