By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Sean is taking this much better than I am. On the phone, he sounds resigned, almost philosophical about the whole thing. A weight has lifted; a chapter ended.
"Fine dining is..." he stutters a little, searching. "I don't know. I think it's just done. It's been hand-to-mouth for a long time. There was never a point when the checkbook was so padded that we didn't have to worry about next weekend's reservations. People always said, ŒOh, it's cool, but it's cramped; you can't get a reservation when you want it; they don't take credit cards.' We always struggled with that. People want all the services that the restaurant in front of the fucking mall has. Valet parking and whatever. And we could never do that here. So it's run its course. It's time."
So some time soon -- maybe next week, maybe a month from now -- Clair de Lune will close. After that, because Kelly still has time left on the lease and he doesn't want to stiff some farmers growing product specifically for him, the space will get a bit of an overhaul, a name change. "Maybe we'll reopen as a tapas bar," he says. Something fun. Something with small plates and small prices more apropos to what he calls "the sushi generation." His roundsman, Seth Black, who has been with him since his days at Aubergine, will likely have a big hand in that. Kelly wants to keep the doors open for the staff that's hung with him through all the lean times, and for Black, whom he thinks is ready to grow. "I'd really like to step back and see what they could do with a place like that," he says.
And what will Kelly be doing? He's wondering that himself. "I love food so much," he says. "I can't think of doing anything else. For a chef to come in at eight in the morning and stand there with flour and butter on his hands? Then he bakes, then he butchers? That's what it's about, isn't it? But I think my days of standing in the kitchen all day are over. It's not really something I'm down about or bummed about. I still look at Clair like it was the best two years of my career. It's just run its course and now it's time to say goodbye."
Leftovers: My recent cheeseburger ramblings took me past another worthy spot: Burgers-n-Sports out in Parker ("Building a Better Burger," January 22). I had two reasons for stopping there. One, those excellent wax-envelope cheeseburgers, good fries and thick milkshakes in all the primary colors: vanilla, chocolate and pink. And two, I had to make sure the place was still open, because Burgers-n-Sports (and its parent company, Ninth Inning Sports) has recently (or I should say finally?) landed in the crosshairs of a lawsuit filed by the good folks behind In-N-Out, the California-based burger chain
The basis of the complaint is thus: That the people behind Burgers-n-Sports are a buncha big, fat copycats. Sure, a lot of fancy-shmancy legal terms are being bandied about, but what it comes down to is a lawyered-up, shirt-and-tie version of a simple schoolyard dirt fight. On one side, there's In-N-Out burger -- the cool kid, the stylish one, the aggrieved party -- and on the other, there's Burgers-n-Sports, the upstart new kid trying to shortcut the long climb to locker-room credibility by co-opting a little of the cool kid's style. Okay, more than a little. And if the court papers recently filed by In-N-Out's attorneys are the cool kid's initial salvo -- the stiff shove and quick "what the fuck?"-- then what promises to be a stupefyingly dull period of arbitration, negotiation and legal motions will serve as the grown-up equivalent of the three o'clock throw-down out by the bike racks.
Why the fuss? Well, because in the opinion of the In-N-Out legal team, Burgers-n-Sports is flat-out ripping off In-N-Out's rather distinctive style (not to mention distinctive spelling) and, to use some of those big words that the lawyers are so fond of, that could add up to copyright infringement, conspiracy, misappropriation, misrepresentation and trade duress. Yes, Burgers-n-Sports gets some mileage out of its nominal frontman (and Ninth Inning Sports partner), Colorado native Goose Gossage. And no, I've never been to an In-N-Out that had a batting cage or gave up a quarter of its floor space to a big, sports-themed gift shop or topped its booths with green chain-link fence like a Little League dugout. But come on: Short of the jock stuff, everything else about this place looks, tastes, smells and feels like an In-N-Out burger joint. And while I think that's great (because it saves me a seven-hour high-speed drive to the nearest In-N-Out location in Vegas), I can certainly understand where the law-dogs are coming from on this one.
According to Ninth Inning, Burgers-n-Sports never had and does not now have anything to do with the In-N-Out burger chain. So while the spat works its way through the legal system, the outpost in Parker will continue to cook up a mean cheeseburger -- and its owners are even planning to expand to a second location.