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French cuisine on the Idaho panhandle
Laurent and Patricia Zirotti, formerly of Enzo's in Billings, stand inside their new restaurant in Post Falls, Idaho.

A new restaurant called Fleur de Sel is tickling the taste buds of patrons in Post Falls, Idaho, close to Coeur d'Alene.

Opened a month ago, the Fleur de Sel is the latest culinary adventure of the French couple Laurent and Patricia Zirotti, formerly of Enzo in Billings.

"We focus more on classic French cooking and serve it in an intimate atmosphere," Laurent said.

Fleur de Sel, which seats 35 at its tables and eight at the elegant bar, is considerably smaller than Enzo.

Named after the fine crust that is skimmed off the top of salt beds, Fleur de Sel (flower of salt) appealed to Laurent because it is the cream of the crop, the finest aspect of a noble yet simple product, salt.

At this restaurant, Patricia plays a much bigger role. Standing behind the imposing bar, the petite French woman mixes drinks, pours wine, greets guests and guides staff. Laurent orchestrates the impeccable kitchen, which serves simple but savory cuisine.

"Laurent is in the kitchen and I am out front. When the staff complains about how demanding I am, I tell them how lucky they are that he isn't training them!" laughed Patricia.

The staff includes three waiters, a bartender, an assistant chef and a dishwasher. Sometimes the couple calls their son Enzo to help with food preparation and their other son Lucas to wait tables when they are very busy.

"Business really picks up on the weekends when we are usually at capacity," Laurent said. "Last weekend, three couples from Billings came. We've only been open a month and some people have come back four times."

The Highland Day Spa, which shares the building with Fleur de Sel, also brings in business during the week, he said, especially to the bar. Both are housed in the elegant former clubhouse of the Highland Golf Course.

The wood building sits atop a hill that overlooks the Spokane River.

"We love this location even though it's a bit outside of town. It feels so good to be here looking out over the valley," Laurent said. "That's important because we spend so much time here."

The couple works 14-hour days, six day a week, with Sundays off. While their sights are set on the future, they are nostalgic about their lives in Billings and will return for a fundraising dinner in January.

"We really miss our friends and loyal customers from Billings," Patricia said. "So many people were like family to us. But, it was time to make a change and start our own restaurant."

If success can be measured by the satisfied smiles of diners enjoying their meals, then the Zirottis have once again found the right recipe.

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