Put Out The Light
They say that being thrown out of a restaurant is a rite of passage for a critic; I’ve always hoped that someday it would happen to me. When the world-famous Rubino brothers bounced the National Post’s Jacob Richler from Luce soon after the restaurant opened (the feud reaching back to the early days of their other restaurant, Rain), I did feel a twinge of envy. Luce is off the lobby of the Hotel Le Germain and the Rubinos’ cast-iron contract meant they also provided room service to hotel guests, so Jacob cleverly booked a room, ordered various dishes and still wrote his piece. It was the talk of the town.
My own experiences of Luce were always more welcoming. I enjoyed Guy Rubino’s meticulous, avant-garde take on his Italian culinary heritage—that dazzling antipasto where the finely wrought elements were set out like pieces of jewellery on a marble slab; amazing desserts like a chilled soup of ferrelle pear enhanced by cactus pear-prosecco sorbet and a frond of lavender. Though the prices were high they seemed to me to be justified by the labour and the imagination involved—and by the delectability factor. It was the people who went there expecting a big bowl of pasta and a grilled veal chop the size of an athlete’s thigh who ended up disappointed. Whatever. Luce is finished now. The Rubinos received an anonymous offer for the place—a figure so generous they weren’t even tempted to haggle. “We didn’t know who it was until this morning,” Guy told me last Friday. “We thought it was probably an Asian restaurateur hoping to challenge us at Rain, across the street. In fact, it was the Germains—the hotel itself.”
Which makes sense. The hoteliers and the Rubinos began their relationship with a lengthy lawsuit—an attempt to oust the restaurant from the property that eventually failed. And the Germain group recently suffered a loss when one of its Quebec properties, the beautiful old Auberge Hatley, burned to the ground. This is just speculation, but the company may now have a team of chefs and front of house staff with nowhere to go. The Luce premises are gorgeous and the kitchen’s in full working order. Rubino guesses the space will reopen quickly as some kind of French or French-Canadian bistro. Meanwhile, his own reaction, and that of his brother, Michael, is one of elation and relief. In the two years since Luce opened they have become TV stars in Asia and the States—mobbed by fans in Taiwan and Singapore. Michael is solo producer of the third series of their hit show, Made to Order, and Guy is working on a cookbook to be published in the US with global distribution. He also vows to concentrate his full attention on Rain, which is due for a makeover this summer, with a new kitchen and a sushi and sashimi bar where the lounge now stands. “We’ve had to turn down countless international invitations because Luce kept us so busy, open seven days a week,” continues Guy. “And whenever we talked about our plans for the future, Luce never really figured. It’s actually very liberating.”
Not an overwhelmingly poignant epitaph for the restaurant, but I don’t think it has been very busy in recent months. Even the hotel guests rarely ate there, quietly directed to other establishments (if the word on the street is to be believed) by the concierges at the desk. But I’ll miss the place. I’ve been toying with the idea of strolling down there for a final farewell. Who knows? If I ask politely enough, they might even throw me out.