Meet Elizabeth McGuire and Alain Jorande, owners of four-month old Enchante and Western New York's newest restaurant couple.
He cooks -- she doesn't. (Not in the restaurant anyway.)
Liz McGuire's province at Enchante is strictly the front of the house. She acts as hostess and trouble shooter.
The couple are disparate in other ways, too. Buffalo-born Ms. McGuire has worked as a model and makeup artist. She has also done construction work at the airport.
"But owning (as opposed to working) a restaurant is much harder work," she says.
And if you ask what her favorite food is -- she doesn't even hesitate. Fois gras wins hands down. Unless you count her husband's Banana Pancakes.
Goateed Jorande on the other hand, may be a Frenchman, but he'd opt for simple grilled steak and baked potatoes if he could. "And I'd eat all the fat," he adds firmly.
Jorande was born near Reims and thought he wanted to be an artist. But he left art school at 17 to apprentice in the famous restaurant Boyer, northeast of Paris in Champagne country. It was a three-year apprenticeship program, but he did well from the very beginning.
"After one week, I was chopping everything in the kitchen," he recalls.
"At Boyer, we didn't use one thing out of cans -- we made everything from the beginning. " 'Oh,' we would say, 'a truck full of pears is coming.'
"And then we'd all have to get busy, preserving the pears for the winter." Now, at Enchante -- despite the fact that he works in a kitchen that measures exactly 8-by-17 feet and contains exactly one oven and six burners -- Jorande draws on that experience.
A typical lunch menu might feature Scallop Terrine or fresh Tomato Soup with Basil or Skate Wing with freshly made caper butter.
The Maryland Crabcake is served with baby greens and Mango Dressing made from real mangos, not frozen puree.
The dinner menu shows a stronger Gallic influence -- fresh duck Fois Gras Terrine, Dover sole served meuniere (simply sauteed in
butter) or Rack of Lamb with Flageolets (tiny kidney beans) with Roasted Garlic Sauce. Entrees sell for $18 and up.
The dessert list includes one of the richest Creme Brulee in the city or freshly made ice cream or sorbet.
"Alain is a most impressive talent, but his best attribute is that he takes everything in stride," says Italo Besseghini, owner of the late, lamented Sasella Restaurant who now operates as Enchante's produce broker.
And he's versatile, too. "If something's not available he just says, "OK I'll do something else.'
"He's one of the few chefs in the area who is willing to change the menu on a daily basis, and he takes pride in his work .
"He's going to make the restaurant work. No doubt about it."
Ms. McGuire, 34, and Jorande, 41, met and married in Palm Beach, Fla. He had worked in and owned restaurants in Montreal. In Palm Beach, he was a part owner of St. Honore.
He came to Buffalo to work for Sportservice and help open the Fleet Center in Boston.
That suited Ms. McGuire fine. As the youngest of eight children who still live in this area -- she is the daughter of Betty McGuire and the late Bob Chappell -- Ms. McGuire had strong Western New York roots.
It wasn't long before the couple decided to open a restaurant, and when 16 Allen St. became vacant, it seemed the answer to a prayer. The building has great charm -- it's more than 100 years old and had been the site of several restaurants.
"It was practically a turnkey operation," Jorande explains.
Well, there were a few things that had to be done, of course. Jorande hung wallpaper in the bar and built a small dessert station in the back hall to cut down on kitchen confusion. The restaurant opened during the Allentown Art Festival.
Ms. McGuire actually pounded the pavement to tell people about Enchante. "I walked up and down Elmwood Avenue to tell people about the restaurant and leave cards," she says.
"After all, I'm from here, so I knew all the shops."
The first big break came in a florist shop when she was overheard by a Buffalonian who often travels in France. She visited Enchante that evening.
"We were so excited, it was our first four tabletop, " said Ms. McGuire. The meal went nicely. And the word was out. Enchante became a new destination for local foodies.
So far, business has stayed good. On Saturday nights, tables are turned three times. "I figure about 60 percent of our customers are repeats," Ms. McGuire says.
Jorande, for his part, is pleased with the Buffalo reception. "I sell over 15 pounds of fois gras every two weeks," he says. "I sell a lot of rabbit, and I even sell a lot of sweetbreads.
"The thing is people know what sweetbreads were like 10 or 20 years ago, so I change them a little. I add a little Earl Gray tea and port to the cream sauce. I grate some fresh ginger over it all. They like it.
And all the hard work has been worth it.
Not that there haven't been problems. It took some time to get a liquor license, and the location near Main Street is of concern to some suburbanites who worry about street people in the area.
The couple offer valet parking on weekend nights as a solution.
There have also been problems with staff. Turnover has been (and still is) high. Luckily, Ms. McGuire has a supportive family who can fill in when necessary.
Enchante is very much a partnership. The couple works well together. "I would never have gone back to the restaurant business without Liz," says Jorande.
"I certainly wouldn't be in this business if I didn't have the big guy," says Ms. McGuire. Still, both partners know they have a way to go.
"Our next goal is to get some decent chairs," says Jorande. "I don't know what kind yet but I'll know them when I see them. The ones we have now are ugly."
And after that? It's Ms. McGuire's turn.
"We have to get some decent silver."