Monday, March 14, 2011

Café Charbon-Epicerie

Through a series of swinging doors unfolded a barroom with checkered tile floors, wood paneling, and candlelit ambiance.  A tall, curly-haired French waiter showed us to the small, wobbly table we had for the evening.  The restaurant had a secluded, boutique feel.  The walls were lined with shelves of dusty wine bottles, antique wooden boxes, and metal picture frames.   Though I did notice that the tablecloths in place were the same picnic plaid types as the ones at Grimaldi’s (apparently these must have gone on sale at the New York City restaurant convention).   
Never has it taken less time to choose my meal from a menu.  It spoke to me, in its sexy French voice, “You will have the hanger steak with pepper sauce and gratin dauphinois, with a Hefeweizen beer to wash it all down."  Gratin dauphinois are thinly sliced potatoes topped with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, eggs and/or butter and browned, much like au gratin potatoes. 
The steak plate arrived in eloquent fashion.  Thick cuts of crimson-colored meat were fanned out around a mound of golden potatoes, and drizzled with a viscous pepper sauce.  Unfortunately, the low light was a detriment to the visual appeal of the food.  I found that candlelit ambiance is not the most conducive to great food photography.  Thankfully, the taste was enough to carry the plate.  
Prepared just the way I like it, the steak was cooked medium-rare: warm and tender center, not demanding excessive gnawing.  The potatoes were stacked like a flaky biscuit.  Each layer had a crispy outer crust with a moist, buttery center.   And I sopped up every last drip of pepper sauce along the way. The beer gave dinner a sweet, floral finish, which balanced out the bite of the pepper sauce.  
 We bartered and traded bites from our plates, all being foodies at heart.  I sampled the shepherd’s pie and the French onion soup, both hearty and delicious.  But honestly, it must be god-like to be better than steak.   The French café experience was like a merging of European chic and country-style meals.  The flavors were bold and savory, without being overwhelming in portion sizes. 

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