PARIS - A diner at my table offered her unsolicited response to the abrasive, deafening, dinner-time noise and clatter that filled the gigantic new Left Bank brasserie, Alcazar: ''If I come back, it will be just the two of us, my husband and I. We have been married for 50 years, so if we can't talk to one another for two hours, its O.K.''
The French have been invaded by the British, and only time will tell if Parisians will embrace it. Sir Terence Conran of design fame has bravely and boldly expanded his London dining empire to Paris with his bright, airy, smart and bustling 200-seat brasserie Alcazar. All red, white, black and modern, this brilliantly designed spot is just the sort of injection Conran and others think Paris needs. (Others might argue that the restaurant is little more than a continued internationalization and dumbing down of cuisine, with a Euro-Asian-fusion menu that could be served anywhere in the world.)
But Conran is not out to lose. He has chosen Guillaume Lutard (formerly of Taillevent) to man the stoves of the glassed-in kitchen that looks out into the bright, two story glass-roofed restaurant in a courtyard off Rue Mazarine. The bread comes from the baker of the moment, Eric Kayser on Rue Monge. And Conran made sure that everyone in town knew he was coming: He papered the press with lavish and colorful advertising; invited everyone in the neighborhood to half-price preopening lunches, and held a series of high-profile ''soft opening'' events before the official start on Nov. 8. Add to that the fact that the restaurant will be open seven days a week, with a brunch on Sundays, and Alcazar is hard to miss.
While the food breaks no new ground, the menu features typical brasserie platters of fresh oysters and shellfish, as well as largely Mediterranean-inspired menu peppered with saffron, arugula, goat cheese, fennel, couscous and artichokes.
Two preopening meals proved uneven, with excellent fresh Guillardeau oysters from Brittany, a fine caramelized puff pastry tart of tomatoes and fresh goat cheese, and a welcoming main course vegetarian platter of braised seasonal vegetables. Far less successful were a misguided puff pastry tart piled high with arugula and rouget and a gigantic, dry chicken breast stuffed with a bland mixture of foie gras and artichokes. The food lacks any definite focus or personality.
The reason to go to Alcazar is that it offers a change of pace from the standard choucroute-and-beer brasserie, with a stunning and modern décor, exquisite service from a well-trained and enthusiastic staff, and a place to hang your hat almost any time of day. An upstairs piano bar offers wine by the glass and a brief menu that includes tastes of sushi, oysters, caviar, smoked salmon and foie gras.
The spot, by the way, is the former Alcazar night club, which closed eight years ago. The site began its life in 1850 as a printing plant.
Alcazar, 62 Rue Mazarine, Paris 6; tel: 01-53-10-19-99; Fax: 01-53-10-23-23. Open daily until 1 A.M. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. A la carte, 300 to 400 francs ($53 to $70)