Thursday, May 13, 2010
French country cooking can produce the most satisfying repast, especially on a cold and windy night. And it was just such inclemency we escaped to enjoy a marvelous evening at Le Normandie, a new restaurant in the Holman Building in Pacific Grove. It’s a lovely spot, and comfortable. It was easy to enjoy two hours of delicious food and warm smiles of appreciation.
Christine and François Richard have been in the restaurant business for more than two decades, and their experience has been put to excellent purpose by owner Nancy Lewis.
First, the decor is charming, with yellow-gold walls, small ceiling lights and fresh flowers on the table. Pleasant French jazz complemented the feel. And it might be a small thing, but the Italian flatware was functional and attractive.
But of course – hear that in a drawn-out French accent – it is the food that will please guests, and no doubt bring them back. Le Normandie hasn’t been open but for a few months, and yet it already has regulars, older for the most part, and clearly discerning.
If one might register a complaint about this team, it would be about their bread. No, not the tainted lucre of past business practices – their monetary misadventures at Chez Christine and Bistro Christine have alienated some – but le pain. They would be well advised to trot up Forest Street to Pavel’s Bakerei (now open every day) for a cartload of their delicious campagna bread to supplant their current overly dry offering.
The menu changes every day, depending on what is fresh in the markets. Pork, chicken and lamb are always available, and then other specialities are added. The dinners come with soup or salad. The onion soup, made using the juice from their roast prime rib, was as good as any I’ve had.The salad was also excellent, served in a unique style, with a tangy vinaigrette over a passel of various types of greens in the center of the plate and an array of crisp vegetables around the edge.
The entrées themselves… but oh, I’m getting ahead of myself. There were several appetizers which we thought to sample. The country paté succeeded with the richness of flavors that floated across the palate with each bite, and the texture, somehow firm but quite spreadable. The escargot met the high standards for this molluscan favorite, delivered to the table with the butter still bubbling, which sent the aroma of fresh and happy garlic wafting about in its special delirium, complementing the buds-scintillating taste. They use port instead of Pernod; a very nice touch. If you weren’t ravenous, you could be quite satisfied with either of the appetizers ($9.95) and a glass of wine.
In fact, we were warned that the meals would be quite filling in themselves, but, dear readers, ours was a noble sacrifice. It wasn’t insignificant that we were given time to digest. It is a sign that those who were feeding us really knew what they were doing.
I had the pork tenderloin a le Normandie in a well-designed mushroom sauce ($15.95). Many people are under the delusion that pork is a meat difficult to mess up, but when it is done right, you know it. The delicate texture told me that here. My partner had the roast leg of lamb au jus ($19.95), a carefully selected cut that matched the tenderloin in texture. Both were accompanied by vegetables and potatoes, displayed in a way worthy of their preparation.
Also on the menu this night were duck leg confit ($16.95), half a roast chicken ($15.95), coq au vin in Gamay wine sauce ($19.95), and fresh wild salmon in a tarragon sauce ($19.95). (These prices are for the weeknight crowd, and rise into the $23-$26 range on Friday and Saturday nights.)
As filling as was our dinner – all right, we took some home – we left room for dessert. One dessert, but oh my goodness. It was a crepe with custard and fresh strawberries ($8); there was a soupçon of brandy in the custard, and it was so delicate and yet rich that we almost got another. The desserts also vary from night to night. We heard a couple at another table ask about the cheesecake they’d enjoyed earlier in the week. They were not at all disappointed by the crepe.
Le Normandie was originally open for lunch, but now they only do dinner, though they start serving at 4pm. In addition to the regular restaurant service, there is a wine bar. State law requires that at an establishment such as this, you can’t just drink; you must eat something while you sip. Hardly a punishment; e.g., drumsticks au Basquez ($5), salmon pâté ($5.95), endive au gratin ($8.95), pheasant and goose pâté ($8.95) or fries ($3). Any one of the appetizers, which vary from day to day, will quickly dissolve any objection to this intrusion by the government.
Le Normandie is a great find, especially if you seek more than a good meal – in other words, if a dining experience is your aim. The fine food and lovely decor is further enhanced by a particularly friendly service; la mère française wants you to eat well and be happy. We were most pleased to oblige.