By: George Balling
Wow, where to start with this one? Fleur de Sel Restaurant closed on Thursday. Mary and I had been working with FDS and owners Laurent and Patricia Zirotti on our monthly winemaker dinners for 10 years. They have been wonderful partners, and we can only hope that over that span we have been as good to them as they have to us. The partnership on these events always functioned at the highest of levels with each of us knowing our roles. FDS wanted to be a restaurant, that’s it, and they and their staff were among the greats not just in North Idaho but anywhere, and we love being a wine store and we always try to reach the standard they set for outstanding service.
When it became public that Laurent and Patricia had sold the restaurant and Fleur de Sel would be closing, on May 20 the day of our last winemaker dinner with Lorenzo Trefethen the demand was overwhelming. So much so that we added a second wine dinner the night before. Both were filled to capacity for this one last chance to enjoy the epic food and 5-star service at FDS. The restaurant did not disappoint, they never did. We have felt for a long time that the wine dinners were the opportunity for Laurent to really be creative with his chefing and in some ways do some of his best work. His regular menu was so popular, that it was challenging to take the most popular items off the menu to add some of his creative favorites. The wine dinners broke those shackles.
For every wine dinner over the years, we saw the same servers in the front of the house managed and tutored expertly by Patricia. Eddy, Renee and Peter became friends, almost family to Mary and I and those who regularly attended the monthly gatherings. They always performed impeccably. One of the extraordinary things about these events is how you could fill a restaurant to capacity and randomly place guests together and have it work out so beautifully. Friendships were forged, many would travel to each other’s homes for dinner, and other groups began to travel together, our community developed and it was so rewarding to watch.
On Thursday evening we had one couple share with us how our shop community had helped them settle into North Idaho after a move from South Carolina. They talked of how the dinners made them feel welcome and lead to friendships they enjoy to this day. It was touching beyond words.
North Idaho’s own little Michelin-esq restaurant accomplished so many things in the 13+ years they were with us, countless local awards from both Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, a James Beard Award semifinalist, appearances on several Food Network series, and successful fundraisers for causes near and dear to the Zirottis. They introduced our town to world class French food and wine in a lovely and elegant white tablecloth setting. It was a grand room with breathtaking views where diners could feel comfortable wearing a jacket and tie, or a dress if they chose. An environment and setting that sadly is being lost as the dining scene drives ever more toward an overwhelming casualness, that is disappointing. The team at FDS did all this while making each and every diner feel completely comfortable and at ease, regardless of where they came from or what their beliefs were, also something we need more of.
The last year here in North Idaho has been tough on restaurants with covid related shutdowns, staff shortages and mask requirements, making a difficult industry even more challenging. Laurent and Patricia navigated the maze as they always do every situation with grace and beauty. From take out to reopening they handled it all with apparent ease. Through it all the restaurant has remained tremendously successful drawing from Spokane, all of North Idaho and more far-flung places, they have enjoyed tremendous support from their loyal clientele throughout their history. During the early stages of covid shutdowns customers drove from Spokane, Bayview and other areas to pick up take out just to show their unwavering support. The husband-and-wife team though was ready for a rest, the primary reason for the sale.
Our last two dinners were heart wrenching for us, and the assembled crowds. In one final toast on Thursday evening Mary said “We are in awe of Fleur de Sel”! Perfectly said. There is no way to spin this as any thing other than a loss for our community. The Zirottis, and their staff at FDS achieved greatness, we were proud to be a part of it and for us that greatness stays with you. We will recreate it, but in wine parlance it will be a tough follow. For the Zirottis we wish them all the best, and look forward to our solid on-going friendship, sadly though, without Fleur de Sel.