The relationship has the making not of courtship but of culinary schizophrenia. It could be described on a menu only in Franglais: le hamburger au jus, perhaps, or pommes frites avec ketchup. He is Patrick Terrail, 40, French and the owner of the elegant Ma Maison restaurant in West Hollywood. She is Kathy Gallagher, 30, Irish-American and the proprietor of an eatery named for herself, a noisy New York-style pub, about a mile from Patrick's place. About all the two restaurants have in common is that the Rollses and Jags on the way to Patrick's sometimes cruise by the Hondas and BMWs in front of Kathy's place.
Ah, but love conquers all tastes. Over the past year Terrail and Gallagher have successfully merged their still-unmarried lives, if not yet their clienteles or their menus. "We never agree," says Patrick, "because we have two different kinds of restaurants. Hers is a meeting place. Actually, she's smarter than I am in certain ways. Her place is timelier, at the low end of the price market. Mine is at the high end and more difficult to run. Kathy can sit at the bar with her girlfriends and have a good time. If I'm not at the door, I'm in trouble. People come in with a chip on their shoulder that says, 'Show me what you can do.' I'm always under pressure."
"Our businesses are totally different," Kathy agrees about their disagreeing. "He comes from very proper Europeans. I come from pioneers. He has more service, more people on the floor. My guys are not so serious. They're younger and a lot of them are actors. His are professional waiters. My bartenders are real pourers compared to his. We send a check on a plate. He presents it in a book. That would look silly in my place."
"I tell her she should have a blender in her bar because people in California like to drink things like strawberry daiquiris," Terrail adds. "She says, 'No, if we can't shake it we won't make it.' " Do they ever—ever—take each other's advice? Says Kathy: "The only thing I've influenced Patrick about was to improve the flowers on his tables—they were terrible." For her part, she has taken his suggestion to leave matchbooks off the tables since "bus-boys throw them away anyway when they remove the cloth." Otherwise, they maintain a strict policy of not minding each other's business. "I once told Patrick, 'I don't pick on Ma Maison so don't pick on my place,' " Kathy says. "We made a truce."
Yet despite their independent streaks, Terrail and Gallagher stand as a classic proof of the attraction of opposites. He is a fourth-generation member of a Parisian family acclaimed for culinary brilliance (his uncle Claude owns Paris' venerable Tour d'Argent). Patrick was shipped off to the U.S. to study at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and put in his apprenticeship in New York at the Four Seasons, the Brasserie, El Morocco and L'Etoile. He migrated to the West Coast 11 years ago and, on borrowed money, opened Ma Maison in an abandoned warehouse. That, as Kathy notes, launched "a new era of trendy restaurants" in L.A.
In contrast, Gallagher's own restaurant success seemed less foreordained. She first went into the business in 1975 simply because her boyfriend at the time—not Patrick—wanted to. The Maryland-born daughter of a government cartographer, Kathy had moved to New York at 19 after a modeling agency spotted a photo of her from a beauty pageant and offered her work. In the big city she joined with Jim McMullen, also a professional model, to open the Harper restaurant on Manhattan's Third Avenue. "We circulated during the day so we could bring in all the models, casting agents and photographers at night," she recalls. "Harper's was just this little restaurant filled with beautiful people."
By the time Gallagher and McMullen opened their second Third Avenue eatery—named after him—two years later, they were "engaged and announced." But even as Jim McMullen's thrived, their relationship slipped. "I had OD'd on New York," Kathy explains. "I was in two businesses at the same time. I worked very late and par-tied very hard."
On a vacation visit to L.A. to stay with her friends Sonny and Susie Bono, Kathy read a PEOPLE article on Ma Maison and decided "to check this place out. I remember exactly what I had—cold salmon. I barely remember Patrick." Her mind was still on other matters after her return to New York. In one stroke she broke off her engagement, sold her share of the Third Avenue places and moved west to stay. Within a year she had opened Kathy Gallagher. "Out here it was either fast foods or very fancy," she says of the restaurant scene she found. "Mine is the middle-of-the-road sort of place they needed." (Average dinner checks there, for such selections as chicken pot pie and shrimp scampi with wine, run about $15 per person; the average at Ma Maison, for such entrées as tenderloin of lamb with peppercorns or a house specialty, roast turbot in red-wine sauce, is at least double that, exclusive of wine.)
"I've followed Kathy's career from the day she opened," says Patrick. "I tried to date her, but she was tied up" (with Rodeo Drive clothing-store owner Donald Pliner). Terrail was tied up, too, first with former Miss America and local ABC anchor Tawny Godin Little (now married to Dukes of Hazzard
star John Schneider), then with actress Morgan Fairchild ("the straightest person I know—doesn't smoke or drink"). Still, every time Gallagher came by Ma Maison for lunch, Terrail sent complimentary wine or champagne—and not just out of professional courtesy. "We went to a late dinner at L'Orangerie for our first date, and the next morning he invited me to Paris for a restaurant show," Kathy remembers. "I was both impressed and insulted; I didn't even know him. I agreed it would be nice to get out of town, but I wasn't interested in going that far. Then he sent four dozen red roses and a round-trip ticket. He was so persistent, and I thought, 'What the hell.' "
They had a whirlwind week in Paris. Patrick booked separate rooms with a shared adjoining bath. "He asked if he could run my bath water," says Kathy. "He was so silly and fun, I laughed the whole time." His pursuit continued after their return, when Patrick offered to redo his art-and antique-cluttered house in Laurel Canyon to suit her requirements. He has already converted his den into a huge walk-in closet for Kathy, whose collection of clothes and one-of-a-kind shoes could stock a fair-sized Beverly Hills boutique. "She was afraid my two German shepherds would eat her Maud Frizon shoes," says Terrail.
For all his effort at accommodation, Kathy has insisted on maintaining her spacious, high-rise apartment near Sunset Strip, and that occasionally results in a comedy of errors. Terrail recalls one evening when he called Gallagher at her restaurant to tell her he was going home. " 'So am I,' she tells me, so I went to her house and waited and waited and waited. Finally I decided to go back to my house, and there she was, waiting in bed at my house."
Since both normally put in 12-or-more-hour working days, they try to steal away during the lull between lunch and dinner to meet for a meal alone—sometimes at her place, more often at Ma Maison. They spend one or two nights together during the week, and unless Kathy has filled their weekends with social outings, they like to lounge around Patrick's pool, taking turns on the outdoor exercise bike or discussing articles they've read in food-trade magazines. Even their disagreements, they say, aren't all that disagreeable. "The more we argue, the better we get along," Patrick insists. "We never have a boring moment." Says Kathy: "Patrick is very patient with me. At his restaurant, he's gruff. He yells. You don't approach him. He has to approach you. But with me he's like a big teddy bear."
So why not make it official? Says Terrail: "Kathy talks about her girlfriends getting houses and settling down. She says it's terrible; it means they're getting old. I tell her, no, they're just growing up. Kathy's afraid she's going to miss something. I'm much more settled. I like staying home and watching TV with my slippers on. The greatest pleasure I have is being home on Sunday with Kathy and fixing dinner for her." Now, all he has to do is convince her that's what she wants, too. So far, it's still a draw.
- Mary A. Fischer.