Les Eat 
Member since Jul 8, 2010


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I love the new space at "The Villa", the reincarnated version of Le Chardonnay, Memphis' venerable wine bar/bistro. More light, new bar - just great. But was the change a good idea?

Le Chardonnay, Memphis' first wine bar, opened on the "back side" of Overton Square in the early to-mid '80's to an enthusiastic welcome. An appetizing bistro-style menu, enhanced by an extensive selection of well-chosen wines (many by-the-glass) made the cozy, cellar-like hideaway a hot spot for the next 15-plus years. Alas, a never-changing food selection and complacent (though friendly) management contributed to a slow dulling of Le Chardonnay's original shine. A little over a year ago, it moved a block to the north to Madison Avenue, taking the popular Bayou Bar and Grill with it. The larger quarters seemed to make an ideal new home for "The Bayou" - maybe not so much for its sister restaurant. Le Chardonnay had too many empty seats.

Well, ya gotta do something. The eighties-vintage menu was replaced, as was the chef, to (I guess) mixed reviews. In any case, the revised menu and its chef are no more. Now what?

Enter "The Villa". This is apparently Le Chardonnay's fix-it idea du jour. The name's lack of sparkle and originality (there are at least two or three other popular restaurants in Memphis with "Villa" in their names, and one "Villa" long-closed) is, unfortunately, shared by the food.

As one might deduce from the new moniker, the menu is "casual Italian". I gave it three tries. Small-portion pasta dishes were reasonably priced, but inauthentic if not out-and-out incorrect. The "italian salad" was passable, but the only time I was served bread (remember, this is an Italian restaurant) with my meal was when I asked for it. Puttanesca was tossed with the usual olive, tomato, caper combo - then ladled with warm marinara. Huh? One or the other, please. The pasta primavera was just plain tasteless, no garlic, basil or parmesan presence. The flavor forgot to show up.

A Rose By Any Other Name

The Villa is a lovely spot. The owner/managers are terrific, friendly people. They still have a great wine list, a pleasant staff and one of the best martinis in town. The location's great. I enjoy the place, as I have for years. If there's a problem, it's not in the name, it's in the kitchen. And that can be fixed. 'Til they fix it, and they will I'm sure, go anyway. It's still a great spot.

My rating is based on The Food. Everything else is great!

Posted by Les Eat on 07/08/2010 at 3:25 PM
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