From Paris with love: Paris 7th in Fort Worth’s Cultural District is about more than great food
Text and photos by Meda Kessler
The tables are perfectly set with pressed linens. Carefully plated dishes — duck, lamb chops, desserts — make their way from the kitchen. Wine and water glasses are filled.
It’s midmorning, and Paris 7th, the popular French restaurant in Fort Worth’s Cultural District, is closed. We’re here for a preview of the spring menu. It’s tempting to grab a fork and dig in.
But new owners Mark Hitri, also the chef, and Chris Salvador — let’s call him head of hospitality — want to talk about service. And people.
Neither is a stranger to these concepts, and both know how important they are to the success of any restaurant.
They are among the reasons that the two men bought Paris 7th, with Salvador being the majority owner. When it comes to their culinary backgrounds, you may need a scorecard: Both have deep connections to Bernard Tronche, the French-born restaurateur who owns Saint-Emilion Restaurant, which celebrates its 39th anniversary Feb. 14. In 2017, Tronche purchased the former Le Cep, renamed it Paris 7th and moved Saint-Emilion’s fine-dining operations there, partly to take advantage of the larger kitchen and newer building. Saint-Emilion became a country French bistro. The two are just a few blocks away from each other.
Salvador, a Dallas native, knew Tronche through his father. “I came from a family of restaurateurs, but I was groomed to be a lawyer,” says Salvador. Instead, he went to work for the government, but he admitted it was not a good match. He found himself drawn back into the service industry and became one of the area’s top waiters while working at Cacharel, a beloved French restaurant in an Arlington high-rise. It closed in 2016.
Salvador found his new family with Tronche and Saint-Emilion. “Bernard gave me a new platform. Whether it was food or wine, I learned to guide guests on a special journey that comes with dining out.”
Hitri’s culinary journey is much different. While his plan was to be an English teacher, he opted to play in a band instead. He still plays, writes published haikus and has worked at Dairy Queen to support his band dreams. Hitri eventually worked up to being the “steak guy” at Reflections, the former fine dining restaurant inside Fort Worth’s Worthington Hotel. He helped Tronche open Sapristi! Bistro & Wine Bar in 2000 before heading up the very tiny kitchen at Saint-Emilion. Hitri helped “the Saint,” as he calls it, earn deserved accolades. He then took his talents to other spots, from Billy Bob’s nightclub to the Petroleum Club in downtown Fort Worth to a teaching role at The Culinary School of Fort Worth.
“When the chance to buy Paris 7th presented itself, I knew I wanted a chef as a partner. Mark was the obvious and only choice,” says Salvador. “We’ve already spent time together and have the same philosophy when it comes to running a restaurant. When you come to Paris 7th, you should expect the classics and old-school service. Mark knows how to deliver that.”
Salvador is making changes in the dining room, moving the bold red banquette into the bar area, changing out the linens and adding more color and whimsical decor, including a small replica of the Eiffel Tower. There’s talk of turning part of the wine room into a private dining room.
But much remains the same. “Fine dining and all that comes with it are part of the culture here at Paris 7th,” says Salvador. Chances are better than good that you’ll be greeted by Salvador or get a special wine recommendation from him when you dine at Paris 7th, as the man eats, drinks and sleeps his job. (We did learn he is a Lego fanatic, too.)
Hitri continues to work on his poetry, but the new job has his full attention.
While the kitchen staff is young — many are culinary school graduates — Hitri feels comfortable with them and vice versa. He’s not afraid to offer multiple blackboard specials, from seafood to beef, that change on a weekly basis.
“We want to have fun and push boundaries, but we’ll always be here to honor the style of cooking, the traditions and, most of all, the guests.”