Friday, August 24, 2012

RIP for the owner of a New York classic

Robert Treboux, owner of the New York "time capsule" Le Veau D'Or, died Wednesday at age 87. If you haven't hit your download limit from the New York Times this month, here's William Grimes' obit: Treboux.

Or you could read this column that I wrote last September, about a quiet night when dinner at Le Veau d'Or was just what I needed:


I got out of the taxi feeling older.

New York was suffering under a blanket of humidity. The sky was as gray as my outlook. A health issue had chipped at my energy.

Age isn't the only thing that can make you feel old. Too much trendiness, too much shallowness, too much racing toward a finish line that keeps moving. In my mood, the idea of the latest hot restaurant left me cold.

I wanted classic. Timeless. So I took a cab to 129 E. 60th St., to Le Veau d'Or.

James Villas, a Charlotte native and New York food writer, has been after me for years to visit Le Veau, his favorite French restaurant. In 2006, he wrote a story about it for Saveur that ended up in that year's edition of "Best Food Writing." Last May, the restaurant was given an America's Classic award by the James Beard Foundation.

This seemed the night to put aside my list of the latest New York places and trek to the tiny bistro where Oleg Cassini met Grace Kelly, where Truman Capote and Orson Wells bent elbows.

Although the owner, Robert Treboux, wasn't manning the door - he's in his late 80s - his daughter Catherine was in charge. We chatted briefly about our friend Jim, and she brought me a glass of sparkling wine while I settled in a red banquette.

The wood paneling, the watercolors, the black and white pictures of Paris - all classic and well-chosen, as tautly maintained as a facelifted chin. A little shabby too, with acoustic-tile ceiling and droopy orchids.

The table d'hote menu covered the classics, from celeri remoulade to coq au vin.

A white-haired waiter in tuxedo cruised the tables, lower lip pushed out like a fish. He frowned when I asked to add an extra course to the three-course lineup. But chilled vichyssoise was irresistible.

It arrived along with a thick slice of pate, and then delicately browned sole meuniere. For dessert, the mousse was dense and flecked with chocolate bits.

As I ate, I watched the pageantry of service. When someone ordered baby poisson, a cart with a cutting board was rolled up. The copper pot with the chicken was presented for approval. Then the waiter carved it, arranged it and presented it like a prize. calls Le Veau d'Or "the most tightly sealed time capsule in New York, " and Treboux joked about maintaining a museum. But she didn't seem displeased.

In the front window, there was a tall stack of books. All mention Le Veau: Danielle Steele, Liz Smith, Barbara Taylor Bradford. Even Tony Bourdain and "Eloise in Paris."

In the wee hours, a friend texted a report from the latest hot restaurant. I'll admit I felt a twinge. For a moment.

Then I went back to sleep with no regrets. The race could start again tomorrow.