Eat Where Feng Shui Matters
In The Atlantic Monthly’s rules for dining out, writer Tyler Cowen’s second guideline, “Beware the Beautiful, Laughing Women” warns readers about buzzing, sociable atmospheres that he claims detract from high-quality food.
But as Jackie Patricia, co-owner of La Brioche True Food and a feng shui master, suggests, that isn’t the only thing wrong with hip restaurants.
Their chi is off, she says. “The environment of a chic place would actually collude, or emphasize, speed in their life. [Diners] might sit there and feel actually jittery from the space; they talk faster and louder and they will be on their cell phones. It isn’t just that a chic place is going to interfere with the food, it’s going to interfere with the restfulness of the guests, which is almost what they need more than the food.”
This scene is the antithesis of Patricia and husband David Yankovich’s mission for La Brioche. They aim to bring connection and intimacy to customers through an atmosphere that encourages guests to linger and pause from their expedited lives.
They want diners to get what they’re “really hungry for, which is yourself and the other person,” Patricia says. “People think they come for food, they actually come to relate with people.”
To that end, the décor at La Brioche whispers a faint tune of familiarity to its guests, taking them back to a time devoid of cell phones and television and replaced with personal intimacy. The idea is to subconsciously channel nostalgia. “Feelings come from very old places in our mind, things that subtly remind us of safety and happiness and comfort,” Patricia explains. Channeling these types of memories requires chairs reminiscent of early twentieth century parlors, more than ninety distinct fabrics and even rules banning cell phones.
Striking a balance is a goal of feng shui. At La Brioche, the mission was to create three shades of chi: slow, medium and fast. The front of the restaurant, clad with a soundtrack of traffic and incoming customers, is fast. Here, you peer out of windows and witness the outside world. The mid-section of the restaurant is medium chi—more removed from the hustle and bustle and less action-packed.
Customers tend to flock to the slow chi area in the back room. Visible from the front of the restaurant, it is enclosed by warm wallpaper reminiscent of an old family quilt, evoking a sense of intimacy. “People swaddle their babies and that’s what this [room] is all about—how to hold someone,” Patricia says.
This sense of enclosure is used throughout the restaurant, as small spaces allow for more intimacy and familiarity than large, blank ones. Curves are another motif employed, and they’re a crucial component of comfortable chi. Patricia explains the idea with a stream metaphor. “Chi follows lines that we make. A straight river would go too fast, but when the bank changes and moves, it makes it slow down and meander.” The contrasting straight lines and bright colors of contemporary-designed restaurants are far too busy and energetic, according to Patricia.
The good chi doesn’t stop outside, either. Patricia and Yankovich recently added a veranda, arbor and herb garden. The veranda includes nine arches, acting as framework for a sense of privacy. “The first thing that speaks to you is the arches,” Patricia says. “That is the intention. You want the thing that causes the relaxation to speak louder than the thing that causes the speed.”
While skeptics may have their doubts about the influence of feng shui, the proof is in the pudding, or at least in its fancier counterpart. “I don’t ever have to wonder if this place has good chi, because people come in for breakfast and they end up staying to order lunch,” Patricia says.
It is not uncommon to have to wait for a table, and lunchtime is indubitably crowded. Here, the busyness is not due to the jet set or hit music, and it does not signify bad food. Quite the contrary. Perhaps the two are not as mutually exclusive as Cowen’s second rule suggests.
La Brioche True Food, 2862 University Ave., 233-3388, labriochetruefood.com
Brianna Wilson is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine.