I am an enthusiastic fan of the delectable goodies at Le Cafe de Paris. The pastry chef does a fine job of turning basic ingredients like flour, eggs and butter into treats like flaky croissants, ornate cakes and flavorful quiches. I admire chef and owner Matthieu Choux's "made from scratch" work ethic--he built the cafe's front porch by hand--and the fact that his family in Lyon, France, has been in the restaurant and hotel business for generations. However, I was surprised by several kitchen inconsistencies during dinner at the French cafe last Friday night with my husband and friends, Terry and Tracy.
We started with a basket of bread that was impossibly light and crispy, a wheat and light rye combination that had the four of us oohing and aahing. We shared a bottle of 2003 Pinot Noir from Domaine Carneros ($37), the Napa Valley winery owned by the French champagne house Taittinger. Tracy and I began our meals with huge bowls of tangy Potage Cafe de Paris ($3.50), a pureed soup of sauteeed onions, potatoes and Swiss cheese. Terry opted for a bowl of mild Soupe l'Onion Gratinee ($4.50), better known as French onion soup topped with Swiss cheese. As we sipped, Terry and Tracy commented that the casual atmosphere at Le Cafe is welcoming, not stuffy. The two have enjoyed dinner here several times.
But then the inconsistencies began. I ordered the Cotes d'Agneau ($22.50)--rack of lamb--medium rare, but when it arrived, I could almost hear the woolly bugger still bleating for his mama. Not only was the meat undercooked, each chop had a wide strip of silver skin along its meaty outer edge. For $22 a plate, I would like the kitchen to do a more thorough job of trimming and cooking. My husband's tender Loup de Mer ($19.50), or Chilean sea bass, was topped with a thick smear of mushy thyme paste rather than "thyme crusted" as the menu promised. However, Tracy raved about her flavorful beef tenderloin entree ($20), the special of the day. It was a good inch and a half thick and cooked beautifully. Terry's rack of lamb was also cooked medium, just the way he ordered it.
I was surprised by the inconsistent preparations from a restaurant so well known for its delicious French comfort foods, but it won't stop me from returning for another try.
--Jennifer Hernandez is crazy for French food, wine and kisses.