Bon Appétit

Sandra and David Avila of Le Cep.

Le Cep

3324 W. Seventh St.

Fort Worth 76107


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Barely open six months, Le Cep, a contemporary French restaurant proffering fine dining, is stirring up Fort Worth’s culinary scene.

The latest addition to the city’s bustling Cultural District, the modern, elegant eatery is enjoying solid bookings and already has been deemed by Texas Monthly magazine as one of 2015’s top 10 “where to eat now” dining spots across the Lone Star State (it’s the only Fort Worth restaurant to make the cut).

The refined restaurant is the concoction of husband-and-wife team David and Sandra Avila – she a trained French chef and native of Mexico and he a former executive at global eye care company Alcon Inc. The couple is surprised by the flood of attention and accolades their restaurant is drawing.

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“I think, like any business, when you start a business you have that vision of success, which we obviously had for Le Cep,” David, 44, said. “I never anticipated that it was going to be so quick. It was like a brush flame that took off and went wild. We hope that momentum continues moving forward.”

Le Cep was inspired by the dining approach the Avilas experienced throughout Europe, where the chef decides what is on the set menu. The restaurant’s name refers to the vine stock in a French vineyard and also is a nod to the Avilas’ favorite hotel in Burgundy.

“We really got into fine dining, in particular European fine dining. We just fell in love with the whole concept, the energy and discipline especially. It’s very ceremonial,” David said. “When I was introduced to it about 10 years ago I thought it was the greatest thing ever. It’s not dinner. It’s the dining experience.”

The pair has spent the past decade traveling, dining and living abroad, all the while dreaming of opening their own European-style restaurant. They first moved to Fort Worth in 2000 before David was transferred to Chicago. They moved back here for three years, long enough for Sandra, who grew up helping in the kitchen of her grandmother’s restaurant in Mexico City, to begin studies at the Culinary School of Fort Worth.

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Another company transfer whisked the couple and their two daughters off to the Philippines, where Sandra continued her culinary education at the Ducasse Institute, owned by celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. After graduating, Sandra was selected for a six-month internship in Paris at Ducasse’s 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant, located on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

“The more I worked, the more I wanted to work, the more I wanted to bring to the table what I was learning,” Sandra, 46, said.

When the couple transferred back to Fort Worth in 2013, they decided to transform their dream of a Parisian-influenced restaurant into a reality.

“By then we were very hot on this restaurant idea and wanted to go after it. Seeing how Fort Worth was growing and expanding, we thought it was the right time to do it,” David said.

David quit his job at Alcon. They sold their house and a car, allowing them to start debt-free. They found an intimate, affordable space for lease on West Seventh Street, deep in the heart of the museum district, and hired Fort Worth architect Michael Bennett of Bennett Benner Partners to design the dining room.

The result is a 15-table, 60-seat minimalist space done in black and gray hues highlighted by a hand-cut Modular Arts wall and the pièce de résistance, a large enclosed glass wine room that can be seen from the entrance and the dining area. While Sandra prepares the menus, preps the food and oversees the kitchen, David, certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers, extends his knowledge of wines with the diners.

“I started studying and learning about wine when I used to take clients out for dinner. I fell in love with wine, all the different flavors and grapes and the process of making it. It’s fascinating,” David said. “We have wines from around the world: Italian, French, German, Hungarian, Argentinian, Chilean, Australian and Californian. When we started the restaurant, about 80 percent of the wine we sold was Californian. Now that’s flipped. About 80 percent is French. People are more comfortable tasting the French and more comfortable asking us questions.”

Le Cep is open for dinner only Tuesday through Saturday. Its nouvelle cuisine changes every month. The March menu’s offerings included sea bass, duck breast and venison, along with soup, salad and dessert. Dinner, which can last two to three hours, starts with a Champagne cart and features an eight-course “discovery” menu for $85 per person, with a wine pairing for an additional $45. There’s also a smaller, four-course “tasting” menu for $45 and a wine pairing for an additional $30. Portions are small, not Texas-sized. A cheese supplement is available for $15 for either the eight-course or four-course meal.

Sandra says she’s been comfortable with her husband working the front of the house but she’s now easing out of the kitchen to chat with patrons table-side and hear feedback about her food and the staff’s service.

“All the staff comes here happy. It’s a happy kitchen and everybody loves the service,” she said. “The happiness shows. That was my dream – to have harmony in the kitchen. I sense a harmony in my kitchen. That is my favorite part of this, the harmony.”

The couple said Le Cep’s European style of fine dining has been well received with local patrons.

“There is, I think, a market for this. People like the experience. So far it’s working,” David said. “It’s a very big small town. People are very friendly. Everyone is supportive. There’s a sense of community here.

“It’s a crazy dream that we had and we’re trying to enjoy it as long as we can.”