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Belden Place Branches Out
by LaWand Mathern on Feb 17, 2006
The team with the golden touch is at it again. The same restaurateurs behind the recently opened Garcon and half of the restaurants on Belden Place (Plouf, Café Bastille, B44) have transformed a onetime firehouse (most recently Zare) into a beautiful French restaurant. The only fire here is coming from the stoves, manned by co-owner and Chef Thomas Weibull. Weibull, formerly of Rubicon, and still consulting as Executive Chef at Plouf, has created a French-inspired menu with global accents that is sure to please the toughest of palettes.
Once inside, it feels as if you've entered a restaurant in Paris. Huge red doors and large, rich velvet drapes lead from the small bar into the cozy dining room, which seats 45. The dining room has undergone quite the transformation. Understated and relaxing in a cream and wine colored palette, the space is outfitted with handcrafted wood banquettes along both of the walls. The bar, constructed by the same craftsman, further reinforces the vintage French feel.
Thanks to the banquette setup in the dining area, there is plenty of room to move around, and diners can enjoy conversation without noise interference from others. The clientele is diverse: young couples on dates, friends celebrating, and older, more established customers share the milieu.
Service is a strength and runs a wonderful balance of being precise and relaxed at the same time. On a Saturday night, we had not only the attentions of the Managing Partner Zack Bezunartea (B44) and talented Sommelier Pascal Fosse but also Chef Weibull, who took time to visit with tables. Pascal has created a 350-bottle wine list, which focuses 60% on French wines. If a bottle is not your speed, one can also order from the 18 wines by the glass; cocktail enthusiasts will enjoy the full bar.
The compact seasonal menu consists of 6 first courses and 7 entrée courses.
Prices run on the higher side, but portions are fair. We liked the Swedish gravlax ($10), topped with pickled cucumbers and poised atop toasted rye; the flavors are clean and refreshing. For something more traditionally French, the sweet breads ($12) are both rich and delicate. Warm and golden, they are served with a unique combination of Chilean Carica and smoked bacon vinaigrette.
The Kobe beef tartar ($14) is served with traditional garniture, as well as a quail egg in its half shell, which rests to the side. Having not had beef tartar since a visit to Paris, where they served it as a large raw hamburger patty with French fries that left my stomach churning, I'm happy to say I've been won back.
Of the seven entrees, there are unique and rare offerings to be had. Take the duo of beef, a petite filet mignon accompanied by red wine-braised short ribs and Lobster ravioli ($32); or the striped bass, served with a confit of Jerusalem artichoke, duck cracklings and a ginger-orange beurre blanc ($27).
We opted for a chestnut-crusted venison rack ($30). Perfectly medium rare, the rack is paired with a spiced carrot puree and lingonberry sauce that evokes a winter celebration in your mouth. Delicious.
The menu is not strong on vegetarian options -- truffled gnocchi ($22) is the only offering. The plump dumplings are served crispy, with an accompanying sauce of braised mustard greens and mascarpone. The crispiness adds a wonderful texture to the gnocchi, and the rich sauce is scrumptious.
If you have room for dessert, the chocolate trio ($8) will delight you. After such a well-executed and lovely evening, you may just be tempted to exclaim, "Très magnifique!"
by LaWand Mathern on Feb 17, 2006
Photo credit: Daniel Yaffe