La Folie, the French restaurant known for foie gras, poached lobster, lofty soufflés, and other decadent dishes, is closing after 32 soigné years in Russian Hill. Chef-owner Roland Passot announced today that he plans to close doors on March 14 in order to retire, spend more time with his family, and write a book. It’s the end of an era for fans of French cuisine and fine-dining restaurants in San Francisco.
Originally opened in the ‘80s, during the same period as Stars, Zuni Cafe, and Square One, La Folie was part of an old guard setting out white tablecloths and fine silver, when going out to dinner was still a glittering event. “French fine dining seems to be an endangered species,” the chef wrote in an email to Eater SF last year. “But as Paul Bocuse used to say, ‘Happiness is in the kitchen.’”
The restaurant evolved over the years and never lost its sheen, but it did have a hell of a year: It suffered a flood in June and closed for four months worth of renovations in order to replace the floors and ceilings. At the same time, Passot turned 65 years old, and his wife Jamie battled breast cancer. Unlike many other fine dining chefs, who step back from the day-to-day operations of their restaurants over the years and decades, Passot has always remained in the kitchen, cooking six nights a week. “I’m getting too old for this,” the chef, who’s originally from Lyon and still has a strong accent, says in a phone interview with Eater SF on Monday afternoon. He describes taking down New Year’s Eve decorations at 3:30 in the morning on wobbly knees. “We looked at each other and decided we need to take care of ourselves. It’s time to let the next generation take over.”
Passot is currently looking for a buyer, but doubts that a new owner would want to continue La Folie — he expects it to become a new restaurant concept. La Folie will be giving up two leases, with the restaurant and kitchen housed in one building, and the lounge and private dining room in another. Passot speaks warmly of both of his landlords, and says they plan to honor his current lease rates, which is a pleasant surprise for San Francisco these days. And the space did have significant work done after the flood, so he’s leaving it recently renovated to whoever is tempted to snap it up. Meanwhile, Passot’s partnerships with Vine Dining restaurant on the Peninsula will continue, with Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park, Meso in San Jose, and others.
Passot says the most emotional part was telling the staff, some of whom had worked at the restaurant for up to 20 years. “San Francisco has been good to us over the years. We had many ups and downs, and many good memories,” he says. “We’re so thankful to all of our patrons. But above all, I love my staff. I mean all of them, everybody who came through those doors, from the dining rooms to kitchens. So many went on to be chefs at other restaurants. I’m proud of all of them. There’s so much talent now in the Bay Area.”