Two are better than one

Back in February, when Italian eatery Ristorante Al Dente got the boot (ha!) from its second floor Mall location after five years in business, it was to make room for The Upstairs, the new steak and seafood restaurant coming from Mark Brown, who owns the entire building, including Escafé on the first floor. Al Dente owner and chef Karim Sellam told us at that time that he planned to reopen his operation at the Ix Building. Last week, we checked on the progress and discovered Sellam isn’t just relocating, he’s expanding in size as well as cuisine. Sellam has taken over all of the space at the end of the building next to Blue Wheel Bicycles and has split it into two separate restaurants. The end section will house Al Dente part due, and will include a large patio space that overlooks the abandoned factory part of Ix (not exactly the Colosseum, but reminiscent of Italian ruins, no?). In addition to the formal dinner he served at the old location, Sellam is adding a “quick but good” lunch menu—lots of homemade pastas with different sauces and salads. “Instead of two slices of pizza and a drink, you’ll be able to get a hearty pasta meal and a drink for the same price or even less,” he says. And on top of that—free parking! In the other space, Sellam plans to open a traditional Moroccan restaurant called Alhamraa. More info to come on that later this summer.

The brick blues

Remember how you used to set up your soccer goal in the street and then you’d have to remove it every 10 minutes or so to let a car pass? Well, that’s the kind of annoying “game on,” “game off,” er, game that Brian Helleberg says he might have to play if he adds a patio seating area to his upscale French restaurant Fleurie on Third Street NE. Because that alley of the Downtown Mall has been bricked, Restaurantarama got all excited that Fleurie would soon add outdoor seating. Helleberg says he was thinking the same thing, until he was recently told “by the city,” he says, that any outdoor furniture would have to be removed at the end of each night. “That’s too much work,” says Helleberg. And even if he could muster the muscle to schlep the stuff inside every night, Helleberg says that he doesn’t have room in his restaurant to store it unless he piles the outdoor furniture on top of his indoor furniture. And even if he did do that, what would he do when it rained? Schlep it out to sit empty in the storm and then schlep it back in all wet?  Helleberg says he’s not willing to rent the additional outdoor space for that trouble, and we don’t blame him.

Ristorante Al Dente owner Karim Sellam has split his new location in the Ix Building in two, and the end section will include a large patio space.

So who is to blame? Helleberg says he was told by the city’s Neighborhood Development Services office that vehicle access is the reason for the nightly furniture removal requirement. Restaurantarama finds that a bit curious, as Third Street NE is not a vehicle crossing area. We contacted Jim Tolbert, director of Neighborhood Development Services, to understand the reason for vehicle access to that area, and he told us, “Some of the merchants wanted it.” He also explained that providing vehicle access before 11am each day was initially considered, but he says, “We are rethinking that now.”  Perhaps, then, Helleberg will be able to negotiate a compromise with the city. If not, those of you who enjoy his dining establishments and crave the fresh air will just have to satisfy yourself with Petit Pois’ alfresco section at Central Place and Il Cane Pazzo’s private, and little known, back patio.

Bizou brunch

That’s right—“Bizou” and “brunch” will be in the same sentence on Sundays starting May 4. Until now, the 12-year old bistro from co-owners Tim Burgess and Vincent Derquenne—also of Bang and formerly of Metro and Metropolitan fame—has served brunch only on special occasions. Look forward to Bizou takes on classics, such as poached eggs and crab, as well as Bizou’s famous banana bread dessert in French toast form.

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