Au Revoir, Chez Nanou.
After five years, owner and cook Anne-Marie “Nanou” Reunier has turned the tables over to Virginie Ok, who, after training with Nanou for the past few months, will continue the French restaurant legacy on Williamson Street.
Under the new name La Kitchenette, the restaurant at 805 Williamson St. will continue serving a few of Nanou’s signature recipes—the sweet and savory crepes, the French onion soup and the lavender crème brulée are still on the menu. La Kitchenette is a "Café-Cantine"-style restaurant, which Ok explains as a concept prevalent in France, where you'll find fresh, homemade comfort food served fast. "They also call it 'fast-good,'" OK says.
The eatery's atmosphere is inspired by the French countryside, offering a cozy space for breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays and for brunch on Sundays.
Born and raised in Paris by Cambodian immigrant parents, Ok is a self-taught cook who was raised on both French and Cambodian food as well as classic pastry from her family’s Parisian bakery.
Ok’s menu will feature primarily French-style dishes, but eventually, she will mix in Cambodian-influenced specials as well. Creating homemade traditional French desserts is what she loves best, but she says, “I want to change the shape.” Daily pastries may include: chouquettes (puff pastry filled with pastry cream), sweet and savory sablés such as sablés de Provence (which is made with rosemary, parmesan cheese and herbs de Provence.) Ok’s madeleines, offered daily, will be gluten-free, and can be paired with coffee roasted by Madison’s award-winning JBC Coffee Roasters.
She’s excited about her Tartine forestière (which is a woodsy béchamel type sauce flavored with morels), petite rounds of poached Ballantine-style chicken, shaved parmesan and pickled red cabbage served open-faced on a single slice of crusty bread. The Croq’basque (made with roasted tomatoes, homemade piperade, mozzarella and basil) is a kind of piquant grilled cheese on soft bread with additional mozzarella broiled on top. Parmentier de Canard (pulled duck crowned with a thick layer of mashed potatoes) is one of La Kitchenette's elevated comfort food dishes. And Ok's signature dessert is the swoon-worthy Poire Belle Helene (a poached pear in syrup with vanilla ice cream that's bathed in homemade chocolate sauce and adorned with almonds.)
Recently, I sat down with Nanou and Ok at La Kitchenette days before the grand opening. When I arrived, Ok was tying thick nautical rope with hanging vintage Edison lightbulbs into Pinterest-worthy knots. A long single-sided booth with tables now sits against a chalkboard wall that will soon have an illustration of the map of France. “I want to tell a story [about] all the French dishes,” Ok says. There are throw pillows and brightly colored woven chairs accentuating farmhouse-meets-bistro tables and chairs. Artwork by a rotating local artist greets you on the wall across from the front door.
Nanou seemed pleased and ready to stand aside and let Ok inhabit the space that Nanou considered home for so many years. Nanou says she has “good, good memories,” but that owning Chez Nanou was hard work, and she’s ready to retire from it.
“Virginie has energy and has passion and I think that is very important,” Nanou says.
Also on the French countryside horizon is La Kitchenette's soon-to-be-secured liquor license, which will allow for French wines, beer and champagne.