I just learned that Robert Treboux, the owner of Le Veau d’Or, died last week at the age of 87. He was one of the last chefs and restaurateurs to come out of La Pavillon, the most influential restaurant of the 20th century. La Pavillon began at the 1939 World’s Fair as Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France, but opened formally in NYC by Andre Soule and chef Pierre Franey. Jacques Pepin also worked there for a time.
Mr. Treboux owned Le Veau d’Or, which opened in 1937, from 1985 and famously refused to change the menu or decor. In “The United States of Arugula,” his history of modern food trends, David Kamp called the restaurant “an extraordinary time warp.” It was, he wrote, “the last place in New York where you can still get uncompromised Escoffier cuisine and have your roast carved tableside by a man who worked directly under Soulé.” (from the NYT).
I was lucky enough to visit Le Veau d’Or in 2009, on a one-night layover coming home from Paris. I changed my flight to accommodate this one night in New York, so that I might visit the tiny restaurant, and if I was lucky, meet Mr. Treboux. Luck was with me, as he greeted me at the door and escorted me inside and to my table. He said he was happy that I made the trip and handed me off to my very capable waiter, who had to have been 70+ years himself.
It was a memorable meal, and the staff and the Treboux family made it even more so. Mr. Treboux’s daughter Catherine took him up to bed at about 10 p.m. and he gave me a little wave. Catherine came back downstairs, and as I was the only one in the joint, directed me to the bar, where we enjoyed some champagne and a cigarette. She said that her father loved to be in the restaurant and that he was there every night until she walked him upstairs to his apartment. We talked for about an hour and I stumbled back to my hotel room under a beautiful and bright New York moon.
Waking up the next morning at 5 a.m. to catch my flight was miserable. But I wouldn’t have missed that magical night at Le Veau d’Or for anything.