Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Official: L'explorateur to Close

We'd all heard the rumors, and frankly, I wanted to let Neal make what I knew was a very tough choice on his own. He's announced, over at his own blog, that he and Lindy will be closing L'explorateur. January 31 will be their last day. (The move downtown had been on hold for a few weeks and recently was called off altogether.)

I've spoken to a lot of you in the past few weeks who have, in the past few weeks, had better meals than ever there. However, as we all know, the economy has hit most fine dining restaurants harder than most. And L'ex was never overly packed on it's best weeks. I have a number of very sad feelings about this closing, not just because it was one of my favorite restaurants personally, but because it says something about us in Indianapolis and how we value fine food. Frankly, what it says about us really pisses me off. Sometimes, I think we diners get exactly what we deserve -- more crappy chains, more low-end oversalted, processed chow, and more chefs who just half-ass their way through their menus thinking they're doing just fine.We have to stop rewarding chefs who aren't getting it done, who focus on low-end medicore food because it's convenient and cheap.

I'm sure many of you will have a myriad of reasons why L'ex failed -- and I might even agree with a few of them. But for now, I'm pretty sad that one of our best culinary talents in Indy isn't going to be sharing food with us for a while.

15 comments:

Ben & Molly said...

I was only able to go to L'ex once while it was open (wonderful birthday gift) and hearing that it is closing kind of saddens me. It was one of the best meals I've had anywhere (not just Indy) and it's a shame that it is shutting its doors.

Greg said...

I thought the post said they were still moving downtown though?

braingirl said...

The move downtown for L'ex had been off for sometime as negotiations for the lease had been problematic. I belive that it is Neal's hope that his next restaurant project will be downtown from the beginning.

Erin said...

I agree with our faithful blogger- this closing does say a lot about Indy dining and Hoosier dining habits. It is a shame that L'ex is closing. I have only been once and had a beautiful meal and dining experience. I am going to make it a point to go back before the week is over.

Kirsten said...

oh no! But I am hopeful about the downtown comment in the babelfish post.

Steph said...

Honestly, I think it says more about Indianapolis budgets than our dining habits, and it says more about restauranteurs not really understanding the Indy market. I've never had the money to go to L'explorateur, and I certainly don't now.

I hate chain restaurants and overly salted food as much as you do. But SOME of our unique independent restaurants have to be within a budget for everyone to go regularly and not just as a birthday gift or holiday treat.

If you look at New York and Chicago and LA - locals don't go to L'explorateur-like restaurants every night. Those high-flyers are attended by tourists from out of town, with locals attending on special occasions, and the large population of those cities means occasional dining from locals is enough to keep high-end restaurants in business.

But those cities also have awesome, independently-owned and operated restaurants that fit in the $ and $$ range - that's where locals do their daily dining.

The Indianapolis market needs a lot more of these quality $ and $$ restaurants. And right now, our cities population isn't big enough that we can support high-end restaurants with occasional dining.

Erin Day said...

This news saddens me so much--I am going to remain optimistic that we will see Neal again soon downtown--and this time, let's hope we can keep the restaurant open. It is up to us to support our local chefs!

Erin said...

Presumably, and as mentioned by you, Braingirl - this is happening as a result of the economy. I also would love to eat at and see more places like L'ex. But I couldn't afford to do so very often before, and not at all now. So please spare me the disparaging remarks about Indy's restaurant culture.

Sure, we have our share of O'Chili's loyalists. But to blame the downfall of L'ex by saying that's all Indy's got, rather than the obvious (the economy) is disrespectful to those here with an appreciation for good, local establishments and a disservice to this city. (Which I would also think is counterproductive to the good work this blog does do for Indy.)

Pungi said...

We'll mourn that such a wonderfully creative restaurant is closing. Having lived in Indy my whole life, we've also mourned the passing of Provincial Kitchen, Peter's, Something Different, etc... I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it must be to run a restaurant of this caliber. So "hats off" to anyone with the guts to do it...

This news should be a rallying cry for all of us "foodies" to continue to support independent restaurants (at all price ranges)...and to try to "convert" others as well.

Over the last ten years, I've been incredibly pleased to see the increase in number and diversity of independent restaurants in this area. For example, my wife and I can actually debate which is the best Thai restaurant in the city -- I couldn't have done that in the early 90's! No, this is not Chicago or New York, but there are enough independents in Indy that we don't even consider chains.

Sorry for the long rant, but just a word of encouragement to Neal and others who are in the restaurant business...There are people who support independents and we just have to encourage others.

ChicagoChad said...

My apologies in advance for the long post...

Yes, this is disappointing having just moved from Chicago. L'ex was a bright spot for my wife and I to dine, and I would put it on the same level as many of the fine places we enjoyed there.

But my comment is really in response to "why" a great place like this didn't succeed longer (and this is only based on my experience of seeing many places of various price ranges fail in Chicago over the past 7 years).

I disagree that it's downfall was the economy. People who truely seek out good food and a superb dining experience on a regular basis will pay for it. As you see in some of the comments already made, most people just don't want to pay that much regardless of their current 401K balance.

I think the quaint location was just too quaint. They needed to be downtown to pull more tourists and (most importantly) people visiting on business. Its unfortunate because it sounds like they were trying to remedy that but ran out of time/patience/money.

The most common complaint I heard about L'ex (and there weren't many) was "price" and "portion size". Both very unfortunate to hear because they reflect the general mentality of the casual Indy diner who tends to expect quantity and not so much quality for their buck. This will continue to be a struggle for any equivalent restaurant like it in the future.

But does that mean fine dining establishments like this should just not try to give it a shot in a city like Indy? Not necessarily, places like this succeed in larger cities not because the economy is better there, but because there are many more people like us on this board who enjoy the quality and don't mind spending the money more often than once a year for an anniversary or birthday.

Having only lived back in Indy for a few months, I managed to make it to L'ex twice. I would have been a regular who made it a point to go at least every 3-6 weeks. I would have taken friends and family from out of town, or visited on various special occasions. But it ultimately didn't succeed because I suspect is didn't have a big enough base of "regulars", along with the accessibility for visiting tourist/business crowds.

So my final thought is that if we truly want to keep places like L'ex around longer, then we need to commit to becoming "regulars" and supporting them by passing on the rave reviews and taking friends/family there...more often!

silver said...

While the economy is certainly an issue, there's no way it's the only one or indeed even the main one. The economy is bad all over the country, but you can't tell me that there are no longer any good independent restaurants in Seattle, NY, Chicago, Portland, DC, etc etc etc. Hell, even Louisville has a better restaurant culture than we do and they would presumably be in a very similar boat economically.

The Urbanophile said...

Extremely disappointing.

I think the budget problem is a perception issue. It's like, what is an expensive house? People get used to a certain expectation in Indy. But if a Hoosier moves to Chicago (and probably doesn't get that much of a raise in the process), the thought of spending $450,000 on a two bedroom condo suddenly becomes more acceptable.

The problem is not that there aren't enough people to afford to eat at L'Ex frequently. It is that there aren't enough people who are willing to, or who value quality of experience enough to do so. That's the difference. And it's purely a factor of the local market.

FACT: There is almost zero culture of connoisseurship in Indianapolis beyond a tiny circle that can't support a local business scene. Those who care about such things either hang out in a small circle or get their fix elsewhere. This is not atypical of smaller cities.

silver said...

But we're not a "smaller" city. According to Wiki's list by population we're just immediately behind San Francisco and well ahead of food meccas like Seattle, Portland, and Memphis. Car companies must think our economy in Indiana is doing pretty well. We even have a dealership that sells Ferraris. Now THAT'S a small circle....

Deuteronomy said...

I'm back in town temporarily, after years away. I was disappointed to hear about this: though I had never made to l'Ex (and currently don't have the budget to do so), I certainly planned on it at a later point.

Indy is still a second-tier market in almost every sense of the word. The old canard that it is "the same size as San Francisco" is great for boosterism sponsored by ICVA but is downright inaccurate when viewed in terms of market size. The city limits of Indianapolis (all 300+ square miles of it) are comparable in population to San Francisco popular (only about 50 square miles I believe) but metro San Francisco is comparable, if not larger, than the population of Indiana. Nothing against Memphis, but it is a lower tier than Indianapolis--having been there, it might be known for its barbecue, but the buck stops there. Portland has brewpubs.

That said, I agree with Erin: I don't think it benefits anyone to put down 1.8 million people because a restaurant closes. That says more about people making these judgments than it does about the restaurant itself. The economy is undoubtedly a factor--if you don't believe that fine establishments aren't closing in other second-tier Midwestern cities (and first-tier as well), I have a bridge to sell you. And that includes the dubious culinary mecca of Louisville.

silver said...

"Portland has brewpubs." Clearly you've never been to Portland (Oregon), or at least you haven't been in the last 5-10 years. If you'll read my post again, you'll see that my point was that the economy cannot be the only factor. Companies that do WAY more demo research than your average indie restaurant have decided that we're "high end" enough to support them. Saks, Nordstrom (2 locations), BMW, Mercedes, Capital Grille, Ruth's Chris, Sullivans, etc etc. So let's look a little deeper than "the economy."