Chez Daniel

Posted on February 1, 2012

Popular chef goes from soup to nuts as he opens a French restaurant in Folsom.

Braised rabbit in rosemary-mustard sauce
Braised rabbit in rosemary-mustard sauce Photography by Stephanie Salo

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The well-known credo that the customer always comes first may prove to be at odds with the vision of chef/owner Daniel Pont at his new restaurant, Chez Daniel.

If you ever visited Pont’s downtown lunch spot, La Bonne Soupe Cafe, you will remember the slow, almost maddeningly methodical way in which Pont tended to every customer. Working completely alone, seemingly oblivious to the line snaking out the door, he carefully prepared each item, then shuffled to the register to ring the customer up before starting the process all over again.

People didn’t seem to mind; the endless waiting was an integral component of the Zen experience of eating at La Bonne Soupe. Pont’s deliberate, solo approach revealed a controlling nature and a staunch perfectionism that I couldn’t help but admire. It was clear that his food was his top priority, and his customers accepted that. The unenlightened, lacking patience for Pont’s High Art, could scurry to Subway, while the city’s foodies were willing to spend their entire lunch hour (and then some) waiting for a smoked trout sandwich and cup of cream of broccoli soup.

To the dismay of many, Pont sold his downtown soupery in April 2011. He reappeared, however, this winter with a new venture in Folsom: an intimate, white-tablecloth French restaurant. Small, subdued and staffed by a lone waiter, the space feels worlds away from his very urban, casual downtown cafe. But while the ambiance is startlingly different, Pont’s perfectionism is very much in evidence—this time, with less charming results.

My first interaction with Pont was via a telephone call, days after I had left a message asking for a reservation for seven people. He called to tell me that he couldn’t accept such a large party. Being completely alone in the kitchen, he explained, he couldn’t plate up the quality of food he wanted with that many people at one table. Disappointed, but again admiring his fierce commitment to his product, I thanked him and met my friends at another restaurant.

A week later, I left another message asking for a reservation for a party of two. Days went by and I left two more messages, then managed to get Pont on the phone the day we had hoped to visit. With a frosty edge to his voice, Pont told me he didn’t accept reservations on the message machine. I reminded him that his phone message makes no mention of this fact, that it’s difficult to get through to a live person, and that the restaurant has no website. Eventually, sounding reluctant, Pont agreed to put me on the list for that evening—“just because you called a few times.” I felt giddily successful, as if I had just been given a gift.

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