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Veteran Restaurateurs Breathe New Life Into 'The Old'

Le Vieux, the new restaurant slated for the old Noisette space, is starting to take shape.

The old Noisette space is getting a makeunder.

The chandeliers are gone in favor of a pressed-tin ceiling. The carpet is coming up to make way for wood floors. "We're going to dramatically change the space," says restaurateur Annette Yang. "We're going to casual it up."

Yang, along with her chef-partner Brian Leitner, have been working hard to transform the space to fit the vision of their latest venture, Le Vieux, which they plan to open some time in November.

"Noisette was a special-occasion restaurant, with tasting menus and prix fixe. That's really different from what we're doing," says Yang. "This is not a quiet, fancy restaurant. It's a family table, like inviting friends over for dinner."

Although the former Bay Area residents have impressive restaurant pedigrees -- she worked at Aqua and Foreign Cinema, while Leitner worked Chez Panisse -- they're no strangers to running a casual dining restaurant. The couple owned the bustling, New England-inspired Nettie's Crab Shack for five years, even earning three stars from the San Francisco Chronicle.

But Yang says they were ready to go in a different direction, on several levels. "We wanted to do something that felt more intimate and small, more owner-operated," she says. "And we love different cultures. Brian did a lot of Mediterranean cuisine at Chez Panisse and that informed a lot of his cooking."

Plus, they were ready to put down roots in a new hometown. "Brian and I had been in San Francisco for over 20 years. I loved my time in the city, but it was also time to leave. The food scene here is just as dynamic and important. When the time was right, we had no question where we were going to move."

In keeping with the name (Le Vieux means "The Old" in French), the ever-changing menu will amble through various Old World Mediterranean cuisines, with a wine and cocktail list to match. One sample menu offers rustic French classics like pot-au-feu and cassoulet, while another features Syrian flatbread and lamb tagine. But that doesn't mean you should expect some kind of Country French-Moroccan-Middle Eastern mash-up, or for a formal rotation of cuisines each month.

"We're going to keep it loose," says Yang, who will run the front of the house while Leitner runs the back. "It's going to be an exploration of lots of different cuisines we're interested in, but we'll focus the menu so it feels like it makes sense together. I think as a guest you'd come and feel like, ‘Oh, this is vaguely Moroccan, and last month when I came it was vaguely Spanish.' "

It's all about creating that dinner-party feeling. The goal is to make Le Vieux essentially an extension of their home, a place where they have the freedom to explore the cuisines that inspire them, and where guests are encouraged to linger and soak up the hospitality.

"We're really intrigued by the idea of food shared around a family table, the energy of having people in your home and gathering together in a simple and honest way," Yang says. "It's like those meals, where you get together in the early afternoon, and pretty soon you look up and it's dark. We want to capture that spirit."

Le Vieux (opening in November): 1937 NW 23rd Pl.

Hours: Dinner Monday-Thursday 5 p.m. to close, and Friday-Sunday 4 p.m. to close; Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Closed Tuesdays