Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sami Kader, In Memoriam

I was stunned and saddened to learn that Sami Kader, the owner and culinary guiding light of Le Tableau and Lavagna, two of my favorite restaurants, died in June of this year. I just discovered this as I entered the recently redesigned Le Tableau website and immediately started writing this. I never met Sami Kader, but I feel a great sense of loss.

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.


Blogger Leslie Kelly said...

Peter, I'm so sad to hear this news... what a wonderful tribute you've written to Mr. Kader.

I hope it brings some comfort to his family and friends to see his efforts recognized. Hopefully, his legacy will carry on.

Most sincerely... Leslie Kelly

12:27 PM  
Anonymous J. Fisher said...


I am stunned. I went there last night and asked about Sami. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the waiter told me the sad news.

I knew Sami, having spent many evenings at both Le Tableau and Lavagna. He worked hard to develop both these restaurants on what was once a rather dreary East Village block. He was a kind, warm, generous guy. I feel terrible for his wife and young boy. My sincerest sympathies go out to them.


6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use to work for a wine importer, had wines listed at Le Tableau but just took a sabbatical year abroad so I have just learned the incredible news. Sami's passing is especially sad because he was truly one of the nicest, most likeable, honest and generous guy in the very self centered New York restaurant world.
I considered you a friend and I will miss you. It will be very sad to return for dinner at what was your "baby" (as you once put it).
My thoughts are with Sami's wife and child.
Jacques H.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, Thank you for remembering the most beautiful person I've ever known. Sami loved life, and loved to make everyone around him tase how wonderful life is. He has left a big void in the lives of every person who knew him. I think about him everyday and I miss him terribly.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

The new Le Tableau has an an appetizing menu, rude owner and unappetizing staff- I am sad to say I will never go back. GROSS

6:54 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I just found this out, as my wife and I were planning to go to Le Tableau on our 9th wedding anniversary. We got married there, and Sami was such a nice man. This is a shock and a tragedy.

2:05 PM  

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