Appetizers
April 20, 2012
Can two restaurant stars fix what ails La Provence?

La Provence, the Roseville restaurant I reviewed rather unfavorably a few months back, has made a couple of significant changes in recent weeks - including the hiring of a restaurant superstar to oversee service and the temporary (or not-so-temporary) installment of a highly regarded local chef to showcase a prix fixe menu with wine pairings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Ruben Szlachciuk, a veteran waiter best known for his 14 years at Biba, has been hired as service manager; Vincent Paul Alexander, who made his reputation at Alexander's Meritage in Folsom, Slocum House in Fair Oaks and the Firehouse in Old Sacramento before moving on to the recently closed Horseshoe Bar Grill in Loomis, has for the past month been wowing guests at La Provence with his fine French cooking (he trained under the great Hubert Keller at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco). Alexander's special menu, set apart from the restaurant's regular menu, is three courses with wine pairings for $49, including an intermezzo.

I caught up with both men Friday. Szlachciuk, who was known for his charm and consummate professionalism at Biba, is likely to have an immediate impact on the service at La Provence.

"I haven't made any big changes because it's a brand new team," he said. "But little by little, I will tell them it's going to be a different game now. My idea is to show them by example and teach them how to do things the right way. The service was not too bad. They were just too relaxed because some of them had been there a long time."

Perhaps he's being diplomatic. The service at the Roseville restaurant is a far cry from the precision one experiences at Biba. But the veteran waiter says he welcomes the challenge.

"For the first time in 20 years I have butterflies in my stomach when I go to work," he said. "It's new. It's exciting."

Alexander, a chef's chef who has a loyal following throughout the region, is not sure how long he will be at La Provence. He has been friendly with the owner for years, and before it opened was involved in helping design the large European-style kitchen and other area's of the restaurant. Is this a temporary stint to introduce a higher pricepoint and more refined food to Roseville diners? Or is this the start of something special?

The chef says he's not sure. Since the closure of the Loomis restaurant, he has been doing some consulting work while striving to honor all of the gift cards from Horseshoe Bar Grill, which closed Jan. 1. The details are complicated. But suffice to say the restaurant was owned by a corporation and Alexander's company was contracted to run the restaurant. When the corporation decided to suddenly close the place, Alexander felt responsible to the gift card holders.

He has held several special dinners as a featured chef at restaurants run by friends, allowing card holders to realize the value of their cards. The final dinner is this Sunday at the very fine The Chef's Table, David Hill's restaurant in Rocklin. Seating is from 5-9:30 p.m. If you want to participate, deal with Alexander directly (in this instance, don't call The Chef's Table) by emailing him at vince1232@hotmail.com.

As for La Provence, it's too soon to tell how these exciting changes will affect the restaurant. But landing these two stars is certainly a step in the right direction.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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