When Louis Perrotte announced in November that he was taking on Reimund Pitz and his wife, Sandy, as partners in Le Coq Au Vin, one of Orlando's consistently acclaimed restaurants, he admitted that it was with an eye toward eventual retirement for him and his wife, Magdelena. But he said he would still be in the kitchen for a while.
I wondered at the time what "a while" meant. I also wondered how two master French chefs could co-exist in one small kitchen. That old adage "too many cooks spoil the broth" is referring to more than one.
The first question, apparently, has been answered. When I asked my waiter on a recent visit to Le Coq Au Vin who was cooking that night, he replied, "Chef Reimund Pitz." When asked if Perrotte didn't still do some of the cooking, the server smiled and said Chef Louis was concentrating on taking it easy.
So then it would seem we have arrived at the moment that so many Central Florida gourmands have dreaded: the reality of Le Coq Au Vin without the Perrottes, Louis commanding the kitchen and Magdalena the consummate hostess at the front door. Would it ever be the same?
It turns out that Louis Perrotte, besides being an excellent restaurateur, is also a pretty smart cookie. He hand-picked Pitz to take over his pride and joy, the restaurant he has built up since 1976, knowing that Pitz had the same high standards and dedication to quality and tradition.
Are there changes? Well, the place seemed a bit brighter and the main dining room had the appearance of having been spiffed up. And the whimsical rooster bidding guests "Bon appetit, y'all" apparently has been replaced with the more subdued logo seen above.
But beyond that, I doubt even the most frequent visitors will notice much change. The service is still as attentive and skilled, and, most important, the food is the same high quality, and the Le Coq Au Vin Dinner Menu (98.41 kB) still has most of the expected favorites.
With Mardi Gras just passed, Le Coq Au Vin was featuring a special menu of New Orleans favorites. My dining companion, who usually orders the onion soup without hesitation, instead opted for the gumbo ($6.50) from the Mardi Gras menu. After I had a sip of the rouxy stew and tasted the spicy andouille, he almost didn't get it back.
But I was perfectly happy with my appetizer of steak tartare ($8.95), a mound of shaved beef blended with a bit of onion, mustard and a touch of Worcestershire sauce, served with crusty bits of toast and sweet cornichons.
I really like that Coq Au Vin offers half portions of most of its entrees. It's a smart thing both nutritionally and, in the current financial climate, economically. And the half portions here are ample enough to satisfy. Even with a favorite like the cassoulet ($16.95), which I had to order before it almost certainly disappears for the summer months. I wasn't disappointed, although I would have enjoyed more beans in the mix. Still, there was plenty of lamb, duck, garlic sausage and pork in the dish, which was sprinkled with duck cracklings and bread crumbs.
My friend had the beef tenderloin ($25.95), sauteed to a perfect medium-rare juciness, topped with a beautiful lobe of duck foie gras, a Port wine sauce the ideal grace note. The meat was tender, and the foie gras filled the mouth with a delightful buttery texture.
The iconic Grand Marnier souffle is still available, but instead we opted for a simple creme brulee ($6), a deftly rendered custard with a solidly creamy texture and a thin crust of burnt sugar on top. We also had the rhubarb tart ($6.50), which was surprisingly mild flavored.
Service was attentive without being fawning, and we were allowed to proceed at our own pace. There was a long lull between courses, but I came to realize it was due to our place in line behind a large party in another room.
At one point during our meal, Reimund Pitz came out to the dining room and went to each table, greeting his guests and thanking them for coming. Besides having the same skills in French cuisine as Louis Perrotte, and the same passion for integrity in his food, Pitz also knows that it's important to be a gracious host.
Le Coq Au Vin is going to be just fine. Le Coq Au Vin is at 4800 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. The phone number is 407-851-6980. The restaurant is once again serving lunch Tuesday through Friday (Perrotte had dropped noontime service a few years ago). Dinner is served Tuesday thorugh Sunday. More information at Le Coq Au Vin's Web site.
New owners (from left) Sandy and Reimund Pitz with sommelier Peter Burke and Louis and Magdalena Perrotte.