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Grand Mall 

Jean-Louis Montecot and Regis Perret bring great French cooking and service to an unlikely location.

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For many of us who’ve been following the career of chef Jean-Louis Montecot, the word last spring that he was opening his own restaurant was long awaited. For too long, he’d been working in other people’s restaurants, executing other people’s menus. The shaved-headed Montecot, a Normandy native, has been cooking since he was 12 years old. In the 1980s, he served as sous chef at Manhattan’s prestigious La Cote Basque before moving to Chicago, then Sundance, Inn on the Creek in Midway, and most recently, the Goldener Hirsch in Deer Valley where he was executive chef. As much as I like Wiener schnitzel, I always felt like it was a waste of Montecot’s talent in the kitchen when I saw it listed on the Goldener Hirsch menu. After all, a well-trained chimp could make schnitzel.

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Now in tandem with his equally hairless business partner Regis Perret and a couple of financial backers, Montecot finally has a place to call his own'literally. His Park City restaurant is called Jean Louis; apparently the name “Two Bald French Guys” was in the early running as well. It takes guts to put your own name on the marquee, but anyone who knows Montecot knows he has ’em. The question, then, is can Montecot live up to the reputation he’s earned for himself here in Utah with his eponymous restaurant?

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I thought it odd that one reviewer bashed Jean Louis restaurant for its location in a business complex/mini mall'the Gateway at the bottom of Park City’s Swede Alley and former home of Renee’s. Maybe he should have purchased a mansion on a hill to open what reviewers might more readily accept as a French restaurant. That the exterior “patio” seating at Jean Louis borders the mall’s public space simply reminds me of high-end restaurants in places like The Forum Shops in Las Vegas. Hey, people don’t seem to mind eating Wolfgang Puck or Todd English’s food in a mall, so why not Montecot’s?

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Personally, I love the look and the vibe at Jean Louis, from the beautiful underlit orange bar to the comfy semicircular banquets to the patio seating with its authentic bistro chairs and tables. Except when you have to take a stroll outside the restaurant to use the public restroom, dining at Jean Louis doesn’t feel like dining in a mall.

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Even when the place is packed'as it was on a recent Friday night'things flow smoothly at Jean Louis thanks in large part to maitre d’hôtel Perret. With a background in restaurant management, operations and service that is as vast as Montecot’s knowledge of cooking, Perret runs a tight ship. He’s hired some of the best servers in town to man it, including an outstanding server named Keith who came over with Perret and Montecot from the Goldener Hirsch.

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An early incarnation of Jean Louis featured menu items like Peruvian-style sea-bass escabeche (Montecot has lived and worked in South America, and his wife is Peruvian), a very tasty Moroccan tangine and a few other global goodies that have disappeared with his new winter menu. It leans a little more toward France with offerings like traditional escargot ($12), a highly addictive duck rillette served in individual jars with cornichons alongside ($8), classic French onion soup ($8), entrecote de boeuf ($45) and grilled prime filet mignon ($32) served au poivre or with blue cheese. For Montecot, I suspect these items are “no-brainers”'stuff he could work up in his sleep. Somehow, I’ve never actually gotten around to eating French onion soup in France. But if it’s one-tenth as delicious as Montecot’s, with its perfect Gruyere crust, count me in!

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For a light starter at Jean Louis, try the tuna tartare ($14), which is sushi-grade ahi tuna, minced with fresh English cucumber and roasted peppers and served in a molded disk. It’s a beautiful dish, and beautiful-tasting as well. I also swooned over the lobster bisque ($9), which was so wonderfully rich I’d be tempted to call it “lobster².â€nn

Although I miss the tangine that was on the summer menu at Jean Louis, I equally enjoyed stealing bites of my wife’s couscous ($28). It comes in a large Moroccan ceramic bowl, the only glitch being that the runner who delivered our couscous on that busy Friday night forgot to remove the equally large lid, which my wife had to set on the cushion next to her. It’s a huge serving of Israeli couscous'closer to orzo in size than regular Moroccan couscous'with a ragout of fresh veggies, boneless chicken, a lamb chop and cumin-infused lamb sausage links. This is a marvelous dish, but one you might want to share with a partner.

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Then there was Montecot’s other-worldly wild salmon tournedos with roasted tomatoes and petits pois ($25); an earthy and completely satisfying braised Colorado lamb shank ($29) served with gnocchi à la Romana; and roasted duck “Belford” (named for one of Jean Louis’ investor), a half Muscovy duck roasted and served simply with a wonderfully balanced fresh berry sauce that was not too tart and not too sweet.

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There’s not much left to say except to recommend following up with an ethereal Grand Marnier soufflé ($12) or Montecot’s lavender-spiked apple tart ($8). This may be mall food, but with Jean Louis’ name on it, I’d be happy to eat it in a parking garage.

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JEAN LOUIS
n136 Heber Ave.
nPark City
n435-200-0260
nDinner nightly
n4 p.m.-midnight

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