Sami Kader, In Memoriam
Kader was born in Egypt (Alexandria, I believe) and grew up in France. He learned the restaurant business on the mangement side of such esteemed establishments as Petrossian, Remi, and La Cote Basque. In 1996 he opened his first restaurant, Le Tableau, the moderately priced East Village bistro whose menu combines the cooking styles and flavors of France with those of the Maghreb and Mashreq. The food has always been inventive and rewarding, never a forced fusion for its own sake. A couple of years later Kader opened Lavagna, on the same block, an equally rewarding Italian place that quickly became a neighborhood favorite.
Sami Kader was not a celebrity chef, but he was as deserving of celebrity as many whose names you all know. Earlier this year I was contacted by Leslie Kelly, food writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Leslie was coming to New York in May for the James Beard Awards, and she wrote me to ask if I could suggest a great new place not yet discovered by the foodie masses. I steered her toward Le Tableau, a not-so-new place, but one that I thought was woefully under the foodie radar. On her blog, Leslie wrote, "Last night, we had a great meal at Le Tableau, a sweet dining room and great prices. ... [T]he chicken roasted under a brick was so juicy, so perfectly seasoned. Loved the chilled tomato/fennel soup and had a swell bottle of Aligote from Washington state grapes."
In a fitting memorial to Kader's impeccable taste, and an interesting coincidence for this blog, Sami's survivors have launched a new website that avoids most of the pitfalls I've railed against. It is tastefully designed, sensibly labeled, easy to navigate, and doesn't resort to cheap tricks.
New Yorkers, if you haven't yet tried Le Tableau or Lavagna, please do so soon.