M Is for Mum
The people behind the defunct Bistro M -- including celebrity chef Michel Richard -- aren't exactly flapping their lips about why the restaurant closed earlier this fall. Richard and his minions at Citrus in Los Angeles failed to return several phone calls, and Capstar Hotels Inc. of Washington, D.C., which managed the property, suffers from a Keystone Kops office-management system in which voice mail is too busy to pick up, staffers trying to reach their own receptionist instead connect with outside callers, and reporters wait endlessly on hold, without benefit of Muzak or talk radio to fill the empty minutes. If Capstar runs its properties the way it runs its own office, then Bistro M never had a chance.

The usual reason for closing a restaurant (especially after only two years) is that the place isn't making enough money to meet investors' projections. On my last visit to Bistro M, over the summer, the restaurant was ominously quiet and the food not quite as sharp as it had been.

Location can't have been the problem; it was at Fifth Street and Mission, in the Milano Hotel, across the street from a huge public parking structure, kitty-corner from the Chron/Ex complex, and just down the street from the San Francisco Center's umpteen stores, including Nordstrom. There are pedestrians galore in that area, surely quite a few of them hungry; and the restaurant offered a three-course, $15 fixed-price lunch that should have appealed to a wide spectrum of those in the mood for something a little snazzier than Jack in the Box.

Bill Freedman, operations manager of the Milano Hotel, only deepens the mystery when he says that he's "prohibited from saying anything" about Bistro M's closure by the terms of the agreements among the hotel, the restaurant, and Capstar.

Maiden Voyage
Sur La Table, the high-end cookware purveyor, has been on a bit of a growth binge lately. After making do with one store (in the Pike Place Market) from 1972 to 1995, the company opened its third store in little more than a year this week -- in the heart of the city.

The new emporium, at 77 Maiden Lane near Union Square, occupies more than 7,000 feet on two levels and offers about 12,500 implements and gadgets for the serious cook -- including stocking-stuffers like truffle shavers, cornichon slicers, and herb shredders. Company Vice President Carole Couture says that the Union Square Sur La Table will be "our largest store yet," and if so, it will be, like its year-old Berkeley sibling, a wonderland difficult to get out of without buying something.

By Paul Reidinger

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