When a restaurant closes for renovations, it’s common to expect new décor, a few new menu items – maybe even fancy new kitchen equipment. In a more drastic re-concepting, a whole new restaurant may emerge. Chef Michael Lachowicz went way further than that – after a total overhaul, his previous property, Restaurant Michael, has been replaced with not one, not two, but three restaurants, all under the same roof but with dramatically different concepts.
OK, to be fair, one of them was there before. Award-winning George Trois, Lachowicz’s high-end French tasting menu spot, had been carved out of an unused space at Restaurant Michael a few years back, and it’s similar to its previous incarnation (albeit with some facelifting). The other two, Aboyer and Silencieux, are brand new, and couldn’t be more different from one another.
After 14 years of running Restaurant Michael, Lachowicz decided it was time for a change. “I talked to every table for months before I closed Restaurant Michael, and I asked them all the same question: What do you want to see happen here?” explains Lachowicz. The answer revealed an interesting generational divide. According to Lachowicz, everyone over 60 basically didn’t want anything to change – they liked the classic food, the quiet ambiance and the high quality service that Restaurant Michael was known for. Everyone under 60 had a different perspective. “They wanted me to change everything but the food quality and the service.” Younger guests wanted less formality, a more raucous atmosphere, and a different vibe. “They told me, ‘we don’t want to sit in a dining room with our grandparents’ friends.’”
The goal with the two new spots: please just about everyone. Aboyer is a loud, busy, informal spot with a large bar and a menu of French-inspired bistro classics. Everything is served a la carte, there are no tablecloths, and the prices are modest. “I have younger staff there, louder music. I don’t want it to be stodgy. No one is wearing a tie,” says Lachowicz.
Silencieux is the opposite: the dining room is peaceful, the music is quiet, and the menu is more formal, with dishes like dover sole and caviar. “In my head, Silencieux is Restaurant Michael 2.0,” says Lachowicz.
The names reflect the concepts’ identities. Even a non-French speaker can suss out what “Silencieux” means, while Aboyer is a tiny bit more obscure. It means “the barker” or “to bark,” and in kitchen slang “aboyer” refers to the expediter who handles plates at the kitchen window. “They’re barking out orders all night long; that implies a more raucous atmosphere,” says Lachowicz.
At Aboyer, the roast chicken is the star. “There’s no middle ground with roast chicken; if it’s not nailed, it sucks. It’s really good or it’s really ‘who cares.’” Lachowicz’s version is brined, stuffed with barley pilaf, then cooked sous vide for 6 hours and finished in the oven. Other dishes include rabbit sausage spiced with sage and served with a charred cabbage confit, and an octopus carpaccio served with pickled pearl onions and serrano peppers.
The menu at Silencieux isn’t quite a tasting menu, though it’s served at a fixed price ($85) for three courses. Lachowicz identifies it as a Table D’Hote, which means guests construct their own menu from a variety of choices for each course. Expect lobster ravioli, foie gras, grilled rack of lamb and classic souffles.
Even though there are a lot of things going on in one building, there’s one constant: Lachowicz. “The common thread, even though we have this lower, middle and upper range experience and pricing is that it’s all quality. It’s all my food.”