Back in January, La Villa Saint Tropez became La Villa. The restaurant, which previously touted the French Riviera as a point of reference, was expanding its menu to embrace all of southern France. To accomplish that feat, it brought in a highly publicized chef, Kevin d'Andrea, who finished runner-up in season six of Top Chef France (2015). It also made a second change at the top, naming Cristina Lagman general manager.
You may not notice the changes at first (though yes, the signage has been updated). It's the same cool, mid-century-modern restaurant with white walls, hardwood floors, cobalt blue chairs, a thick marble bar, and televisions showing classic black-and-white French films. But start perusing the menu, and you'll notice that everything is different. Gone is the show-stopping lobster linguine, which was admittedly more pizzazz than purpose, and in its place, at least for spring, is chicken-and-crimini-mushroom-stuffed agnolotti in roasted parmesan cream. This is a dish that requires nuance, from crafting the soft, pillowy pasta to getting the sauce thickness just right without overdosing on sharpness. There's no enormous crustacean here to cover it up.
d'Andrea shows to be pretty nimble. During a tasting of the spring menu I also had a starter of asparagus prepared two ways, roasted and poached, with hollandaise sauce and hazelnuts; plus Texas wagyu tri-tip seared quickly and served with a perfectly executed mille feuille. The wagyu was nice to see as a nod to locality (d'Andrea says he'll be incorporating local ingredients and ideas whenever possible), though it lacked the kind of silky hit I want from a wagyu order.
I'd recommend dessert, as it seems d'Andrea is a real handle on what he wants and how to deliver it. A shoe-sized vanilla and praline eclair with salted caramel and roasted hazelnut would be great for a party of four. And the real winner is a chocolate genoise with ganache, and raspberry and chocolate raspberry creams. Served with raspberry sorbet, it's a reminder of a raspberry-flavored chocolate that d'Andrea would eat as a child. It's blissful.
We'll see if this iteration of the Montrose and Richmond restaurant hangs around; early returns are that the new chef has some great ideas, isn't afraid to take risks, and more often than not, shines.