May 31, 2004 | Ask Gael
What happened to La Caravelle?
In 1968, an era of haute snoot in Manhattan’s imperious French restaurants, I was a quaking outsider, braving the avowed snobbisme of the terrible-tempered Robert Meyzen for a red velour banquette in La Caravelle’s farthest Siberia. Cruel insult: The menu, written in French, was not even translated. “If you belong here, you get a table,” Meyzen told me. “When I can have Mrs. Lytell Hull, why should I take Mrs. Nobody from Kalamazoo?” Periodic recessions over the years tempered the sadism, though it still had upper-crust club airs. (Funny, isn’t it, how we let lowborn waiters turned martinet entrepreneurs set the rules of our status games.) Then, in 1988, after a brief co-ownership, André and Rita Jammet took charge, bowed to democracy, spruced up the place, and nursed it through ups and downs with a parade of gifted chefs. As our town’s infatuation with nouvelle cuisine soured, and later, when fusion reigned, I found it a joy that Escoffier’s golden oldies could still be found here, the gossamer quenelles de brochet, the duck smitane, the soufflé poufs. Each talented chef’s glowing notices provoked a boomlet that ultimately cooled. Did we really crave an evening in that sweet old relic? In 2002, the heat fueled by its newest chef-chevalier, Troy Dupuy, and his sense-searing, obsessive layerings of tastes and textures filled the banquettes once again. Serious foodies checked in, clucking approval. But it wasn’t enough. Now, for many reasons—residual bitterness over a union walkout, weeks of uneven bookings, André Jammet’s desire to do less, our own fickle passions—La Caravelle joins the ghosts of the many grand Le’s and La’s where once VIP pets got macaroons and the rest of us ate humble pie.