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Sante Cuisine's 'Kitchen Nightmare'

November 21, 2008 | 10:17 am

Santecuisine

In the meritocracy that is America, anyone can open a restaurant. Anyone. I had always assumed that this was an endeavor reserved for people who really love to cook or at least know how to cook. But again and again, "Kitchen Nightmares" features restaurateurs who wouldn't know an haricot vert from a jicama. Last night was no different.

Sante Cuisine (formerly Sante La Brea, formerly A Votre Sante) got the full Gordon Ramsay treatment on last night's episode of "Kitchen Nightmares," a ratings-friendly combo of vicious insults and practical advice.

"Cafe food doesn't have to look like *bleep* and taste crap!" Ramsay bellows after finding rotten eggplant in the fridge. That's what happens when a spineless owner allows a surly chef, careless employees and even his own sons to take advantage of him.

To the credit of owner Dean Hamoui, who seems far too nice for his own good, he takes all of Ramsay's criticisms to heart. After several foul-mouthed tirades from Ramsay, a scream therapy session at Runyon Canyon and a cheap stunt where Ramsay brings in a rent-a-cop to handcuff him, Hamoui is reborn as a screaming hysteric. Well, at least his staff is finally paying attention.

The bonus comes when Ramsay and his team transform the restaurant, literally overnight, into a more polished version of itself. They eliminate the clutter and redecorate the space with a simple but charming ginkgo leaf motif, exploiting the full potential of the restaurant's outdoor patio. Most important, Ramsay trims the unwieldy menu (you could fall asleep just reading through the 150+ items) to a manageable number.

The menu now features a few sandwiches, pizza and pasta dishes; 18 entrees including curry chicken, blackened salmon, falafel and a macrobiotic combo platter; half a dozen salads; a cross-cultural array of appetizers and several tasty-sounding desserts, including vegan chocolate oatmeal banana cookies, raw pineapple cheesecake and for those who prefer their desserts traditional, chocolate peanut butter pie.

Whether the show improves the restaurants it's ostensibly trying to help, is up for debate. But after years of steady decline, Sante La Brea needed some tough love, and perhaps Ramsay was the one to dish it out.

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: On "Kitchen Nightmares," Chef Gordon Ramsay (right) introduces a new menu to the staff of Sante Cuisine. Greg Gayne/Fox

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