Back Talk | Back Talk | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published February 6, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

Can a Single Pebble multiply? What sounds like a Zen koan is also a standard tenet of culinary capitalism. After four years going gangbusters next to a bowling alley on the Barre-Montpelier Road, the best Chinese restaurant in Vermont — make that New England — is duplicating itself in Burlington. “If we replicate what we do here, it’s a pretty solid blueprint for the Burlington market,” says co-owner Phil Gentile. The restaurant’s recipe for success is authentic dishes conceived by his business partner, Chinese-trained chef Steve Bogart. Customers come from all over for his red-pine chicken, dry-fried green beans and mock eel — including from Burlington, where Gentile sees “an opportunity for this style of Chinese cooking because the niche isn’t being filled — really.” Gentile and Bogart will start serving no later than May in the space currently occupied by the Sai-Gon Cafe. After eight years in operation, owner Phi Doane plans to shut the Vietnamese restaurant down with an open house on February 15. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to get out of it, but when I talked to Steve, it just clicked,” she says. “I’m tired of being there by myself all the time. It takes a lot out of you.” The Pebble’s propagation was precipitated by similar issues. At 53, Bogart can no longer spend long hours behind a stove because he suffers from acute arthritis in one foot. As “executive chef,” he’ll keep an eye on both kitchens without having to wok, or walk, too much. And there may be more locations in his future — perhaps even a chain of Pebbles. For now, though, Burlingtonians should be satisfied with a chip off the old block . . . The owners of Starry Night Cafe in Ferrisburgh are going their separate ways, but that means more good restaurants between Burlington and Middlebury. Restaurateur Fleury Mahoney plans to open a “great seafood” place in the space formerly occupied by Isabel’s on the Waterfront. Her former business partner, Starry Night chef Michel Mahe, is going south, possibly to run the restaurant at the Swift House in Middlebury. A sous chef will likely replace him at Starry Night, and Mahoney recruited Chef Bill Allen from New England Culinary Institute to run the new place, where she aims to “blow people away” with a combination of creative cuisine and handcrafted decor. She’s still looking for a name, though, and welcomes any suggestions at 425-6381. “People realize you can do a big-city restaurant here now,” she says, citing Smokejacks, Trattoria Delia and The Waiting Room as high-end eating evidence... There’s no doubt about it, the Burlington dining scene is heating up. After a slow pre-Christmas start, Penny Cluse Café is doing a brisk business at night. At the beginning of March, Stone Soup will extend its hours so you can sup and sip a glass of wine before the show. Even the sneeze guard over the salad bar looks better by candlelight. Rumor has it the new owner of Mr. Up’s in Middlebury is about to close a deal on the building that housed Carbur’s. Finally, enough evening eating options fit for a Queen City . . . Montpelier may lack Burlington’s urban edge, but it’s got plenty of places to chow down — with another one on the way. Cognoscenti — named for its owner, Dale Cognoscenti — “will not be a pasta restaurant, but I don’t know if I’m going to call it upscale Italian, either. The whole concept is a lot about my upbringing,” says the proprietor, who grew up in an apartment over his grandparents in an Italian-Irish neighborhood in Chicago. Cognoscenti plans to transform his “food memories” into a regular supply of fresh gnocchi, timballa, tortino and pizza by the pound. Décor-wise, he’s going for a ’50s Italian clubbish feel, with dark wainscoting and lots of Sinatra. An open kitchen and seven-seat eating bar will add to the intrigue. For now, Cognoscenti dedicated to dinners only, but lunch looks inevitable. Legislators would definitely flock to a place that translates, “people in the know.”

in brief They may be on hiatus, but Phish let themselves be hooked for an appearance on “The Simpsons.” The Vermont band gives an animated performance at the end of an April 7 episode in which Homer experiments with pot for medicinal purposes. It leads to a promotion at work, legalization efforts and a rally with rock ’n’ roll. The boys willingly regrouped and flew to Los Angeles to record their parts. “It was a huge honor for them,” says band spokesman Jason Colton. No word on how many takes, er, tokes, it took . . . Look for fleeting glimpses of Leunig’s bartender Jamie West on the television sitcom “Will & Grace” Thursday night. The 31-year-old Burlingtonian got a walk-on part in the show as part of a package he purchased three years ago at a Vermont CARES auction. Airfare was included in the deal. “I play an eccentric millionaire at a hotel where Karen is throwing a Valentine’s party,” says West. “If the editors don’t go crazy, I’ll be in three of the scenes.” Actor Matt Damon also appears in the episode. Meeting him, says West, was an “added bonus.”