Chez Filet

Quiche

Lobster bites

Bread service with complimentary butter and pate

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This is an intimate (12 tables or less) restaurant in the plaza off I-Drive north of the Orlando Eye.

As the name implies, the concept here is French/steakhouse. They are striving for fine dining, but it’s not quite at that level. Certainly the service is outstandingly solicitous, but it’s clear most of the staff is unfamiliar with the level to which the management aspires. So while many servers asked repeatedly if we needed anything, it was more obtrusive than helpful. Coupled with an offer of dessert before our main courses were served, it was a bit disjointed. Still, their hearts are in the right place, and experience will iron out these problems.

The food, too, strives but doesn’t always succeed. For starters we had the quiche and the lobster bites. The quiche was a nice, small, thin tartlet that made a good appetizer, as it wasn’t too filling. The lobster bites were essentially an escargot preparation, but using generous chunks of lobser instead of snails. The garlic butter was delicious, but the method of preparation of course leaves the lobster very, very well done.

We also had a small Caesar salad and onion soup. The Caesar was good, and at $5 was emblematic of the extremely reasonable pricing. Where else in town can you get a Caesar salad for that price? The onion soup was the only thing we had that really wasn’t good. It looked like a traditional preparation, but the consistency was more like gravy, and not very appealing in taste, either.

Main courses are also very reasonably priced, particularly considering they include two side dishes of your choice. I thought my companion’s New York steak was a bit tough, but she enjoyed it. The accompanying Chico’s sauce had a nice mustard base. I had the fish special, a corvina, which was delicate and nicely prepared. The home run of the evening was actually the Angel Onions, thin onion straws that were battered and perfectly crisped.

Photos of the place don’t do it justice, as the interior decor is stunning, although it would be better with lower light levels.

And as I’ve mentioned, the prices are extremely reasonable, particularly given the tourist area that surrounds it.

Chez Filet
8255 International Dr
Ste 144A
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 250-4090
https://www.yelp.com/biz/chez-filet-orlando

Brindille

Vicchysoisse

Beef tartare

Quail

Scallop

Lobster

Veal

Lamb

Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

Brindille
534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616
http://www.yelp.com/biz/brindille-chicago

DoveCote Brasserie

***** (5 stars)

Downtown Orlando has long been in need of a great French restaurant, and at last there is one. We attended a soft opening lunch with high expectations, and were not disappointed. Even though the restaurant was full, the kitchen was turning out hit after hit, and service was both friendly and professional.

The space is the former Harveyr’s bistro in the bottom of the B of A, but it has been remodeled to give it a modern brasserie feel. In addition to several inside areas, there’s also outside seating. The best addition is free valet parking, right outside the side door, which solves a major downtown dining problem.

We had an opportunity to sample much of the lunch menu, and loved most of what we tried.

Chicken Liver pate was very traditional, with the coating of duck fat on top to seal it into its jar. The highlight of this dish was actually the grilled toast, which was perfectly and authentically done in the brasserie style.

This same wonderful toast accompanied the even better pork terrine, which came with a wonderful house-made mustard.

Carrot soup was a thick, cold concoction poured over cooked shrimp. We heard good things about it, but none of us cared for it, possibly due to some flawed sesame seeds that were sprinkled on top.

French onioin soup was much better, completely traditional, maybe a bit sweet for my taste, but with a rich oxtail broth and plenty of gruyere cheese. The horseradish mentioned on the menu may have added complexity, but wasn’t detectable.

I loved both of the salads we tried. The frisee salad was non-traditional, with a curry dressing and toasted macadamias rather than the traditional egg. It was really exotic. The other salad wasn’t the simple green salad described on the menu, but a delicious concoction involving beets, radish and greens with a vinaigrette and superb crunchy sunflower seed granola.

We shared a DC Burger as another starter. What a great piece of ground breef! It was tender, flavorful, juicy, had a nice char, and was cooked a perfect medium. The mayonnaise-based sauce was excellent but not mentioned in the menu description.

For mains we tried the butter roasted chicken, red snapper, and yellowfin tuna burger. These were all good, but perhaps not quite as good as what came before.

The snapper was certainly the best, with a great crust, and accompanied by very flavorful quinoa.

The chicken was pleasant, but not remarkable, however chef substituted ratatouille for the fingerling potatoes at our request, and it was absolutely great. This should go on the menu by itself!

The tuna burger was not at all what I expected, as it seemed more like a lamb burger due to the way it was ground and the heavy inclusion of cumin in the patty. That said, I really enjoyed it.

A tempura mushroom side dish was nicely cooked, but probably would be better with a different vegetable.

The creme brulee was as good as any I’ve ever had, served at the perfect temperature of slightly warm, with a soft texture, strong vanilla flavor, and a crackly crust.

Milk sherbet with peaches was another winner.

The accompanying espresso was also perfectly done, served in an odd little shot glass, with a nice crema, and just enough bitterness to offset the sweet desserts. This espresso makes me want to go back for breakfast.

In addition to all this great food, there is an even greater wine list, with the best wine pricing of any restaurant in town. Selected by Kristopher Soto, the general manager here, who used to be the sommelier for the sadly missed Vineyard at The Ritz Carlton, the wine price to performance ratio is unmatched anywhere in town. You can get any number of great bottles for well under $100. These wines are literally twice the price at other restaurants in Orlando.

With Clayton Miller as the head chef, Gene Zimmerman, who is behind the Courtesy speakeasy bar, heading the bar, and James Petrakis, the owner of Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder, as a consulting partner, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a great restaurant. But for it to be this good the day before opening is pretty amazing. May it live long and prosper.

DoveCote Brasserie
390 North Orange Ave
Ste 110
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 930-1700
https://www.yelp.com/biz/dovecote-orlando-3

Bistronomic

***** (5 stars)

This bistro serves authentic French bistro food in a modern decor or a pleasant covered outside dining area.

The early evening three course prix fixe menu is an excellent deal, and includes so of the best menu selections.

Duck confit was perfectly crisped, served with a lightly dressed frisee salad.

Salmon was perfectly browned and served over some marvelous vegetables.

Two classic desserts round out the prix fixe menu.

The wine list focuses on affordable French wines, with a limited selection by the glass.

Service was friendly and efficient.

While the ambiance is not traditional, of the French bistros in River North, this is my favorite for food.

Bistronomic
840 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 944-8400
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bistronomic-chicago

Restaurant BT

***** (5 stars)

Based upon the reviews I was expecting some fairly extraordinary food, and I was not disappointed. Everything we had was top notch. The complexity of the recipes and quality of the ingredients is definitely far above most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to.

At a recent lunch we worked our way through many appetizer courses, beginning with the fresh shrimp rolls and the mini crispy spring rolls. Both were elevated by the inclusion of very flavorful and fresh herbs.

Tuna Tai Chanh was a wonderful tuna tartare that was mixed with an unusually large amount of chopped fresh herbs that gave it a complex flavor, elevating it far about the tuna and sesame oil base.

We also tried two special. Pheasant pate was an excellent rough country style pate served with traditional French accompaniments of mustard, gherkins and chopped onions. Truffled burrata cheese was also nicely done, with a sort of pesto or chimichurri accompaniment.

For an entree I had the grilled pork banh mi. I’m a particular fan of that sandwich, and this one was as good as any I’ve had, with lots of fresh herbs, a savory soy marinade, and just the right amount of creamy mayonnaise.

I’m not sure I’d describe anything I had as “fusion” cuisine. Most of the dishes are gourmet Vietnamese, and the two specials we had were French, but I didn’t detect any fusing going on.

The wine list is reasonably priced and offers some nice choices. The Puligny Montrachet went well with the food, although not as well as the Chateau Carbonneau that we brought. The $30 corkage seemed a bit steep, but otherwise I thought the food pricing was very reasonable. I can only assume those complaining about the prices were expecting Vietnamese sandwich shop and the ingredients here mark this as a very fine dining restaurant that happens to serve lunch, too.

Restaurant BT
2507 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33629
(813) 258-1916
http://www.yelp.com/biz/restaurant-bt-tampa

The Blanchard

** (2 stars)

I don’t understand what the  hype is about. This is a perfectly average French restaurant with adequate food, a poorly thought out and overpriced wine list, and a deafening ambiance. I have not eaten in such a loud restaurant since Graham Elliot, and at least there it was because of the absurdly loud music. If The Blanchard has music it is not audible over the roar of other diners in this hard-surfaced room, bare of any attempt at acoustic treatment.

Aside from the imperative to escape from the noise as quickly as possible, there is little to make one want to linger anyway. The highly touted “oeuf outhier”turned out to be a rather gritty scrambled egg mixture in a decapitated egg, topped with sour cream, vodka and a dot of caviar. The flavors didn’t really mesh.

Mussels were just adequate, although a companion liked the mussel soup, which was more like saffron soup. The mussel-topped toast it came with was good, though.

The best appetizer was the duck confit, which was flavorful and nicely defatted. Foie gras ganache was also good, and accompanied by nicely charred brioche.

The dover sole and steak frites were straight from central casting–nothing really wrong with them, but nothing to justify $42 for the sole, either. The best entree (and best item of the meal) was the short rib, which combined an interesting combination of Moroccan and Indian spices, and was topped with a delicious mint couscous. This dish would be the only conceivable reason to return.

The biggest problem is the wine list, a medium sized offering of exclusively French wines that are almost all from either weak vintages or mediocre producers. Even so, prices are high. The Puligny-Montrachet and Nuits-Saint-Georges I ordered were two of the worst bottles of those wines I’ve ever had, despite both being close to $200 each. We let most of both bottles. It’s hard to imagine a sommelier ever sampled either of those wines before buying a case from the distributor.

In the end we were disappointed but happy to flee into the peaceful solitude of the evening.

The Blanchard
1935 N Lincoln Park W
Chicago, IL 60614
(872) 829-3971
http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-blanchard-chicago

Vaucluse

**** (4 stars)

Just as this space has been elevated far above that of a traditional brasserie, so, too, has the food achieved a polish not often found in a simple brasserie. That is not to say that the dishes aren’t traditional, for they are. But everything from plating to ingredients seems top notch.

A standout was the salad Lyonnaise, the best I’ve ever had, with an absolutely perfect poached egg and sinfully good fried croutons. And the pomme frites that came with the burger were superb, crisped with duck fat, and almost hollow.

A compact selection of wines by the glass manages to offer a little of something for everyone. The “house” Altamarea wines are a good bet, especially the Oregon pinot noir.

Service is well intentioned and professional, if not quite at the polished level of the food.

Vaucluse
100 E 63rd St
New York, NY 10065
(646) 869-2300
http://www.yelp.com/biz/vaucluse-new-york

DB Bistro Moderne

**** (4 stars)

We really like db Bistro for late night dinner after the theatre. It’s a short walk from Broadway, and an 11pm reservation is no problem.

The interior  is stylish and well lit, and quite late in the evening, although I’m sure it can get loud earlier.

Service is friendly and efficient, and the menu offers a limited but interesting range of choices. The burger is famous, but because it is stuffed with short ribs and topped with foie gras, it is very rich, and should only be attempted if you are very hungry.

On this visit we started with some seared shishito peppers, these were smaller than usual and nicely seared, served with a soy dipping sauce.

My peekytoe crab appetizer was pretty, but didn’t have a lot of flavor. However the sunchoke soup was rich and full of flavor.

Amish chicken is tender and succulent, and served with an interesting pickled cabbage slaw that complements it well.

An nice variety of wines are available in 5 or 8 ounce servings.

DB Bistro Moderne
55 W 44th St
#1
New York, NY 10036
(212) 391-2400
http://www.yelp.com/biz/db-bistro-moderne-new-york-3

Eleven Madison Park

***** (5 stars)

I had the greatest meal of my life at Eleven Madison Park. I also had the second greatest here. I also had a disastrous one that featured lame table-side magic and a carrot grinder.

But I’m pleased to say that the restaurant has nearly returned to its past glory. Our latest meal still didm’t quite include those one-bite orgasmic wonders of their first menus, but every course was a home run, and the service was impeccable–perfectly timed, efficient, flexible, welcoming and friendly.

Highlights of our most recent meal included an assortment of delicious oyster preparations (high praise since I’m not a huge oyster fan); caviar served like miniature eggs benedict that you assemble yourself; a wonderful sea bass; celery root cooked in a pig’s bladder; and a chocolate guessing game for dessert.

They have started opening their older wines with port tongs, which may be a bit over the top but does provide an entertaining table-side show, and it certainly gets rid of any cruddy corks!

The biggest change is that instead of 16 or so mini courses there are now eight somewhat larger ones, and many course offer several selections. This allowed us, as a party of three, to sample nearly everything on the menu.

I like this new format, and the more professional level of the service overall. Say a happy goodbye to the magic show, and give it a fresh try.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905
http://www.yelp.com/biz/eleven-madison-park-new-york

La Grenouille

***** (5 stars)

La Grenouille is still doing things the same way as when they were founded in 1962, and that’s a good thing. I remember when the world was full of restaurants like this: posh, refined, attentive, traditional, and oh so French. Now it is the last of its kind.

The three course menu is pricey at dinner, but not absurd, and essentially the same food is available at lunch for less than half the price.

The wine list is mostly French (of course) and offers some values for those who browse carefully.

One thing you wouldn’t find on the 1962 menu was the sea bass tartare we started with, which was refreshingly limey and served on an avocado base.

Soufflés are the specialty here, and the cheese shuffle was superb as a main course. The Dover sole was extremely traditional, but perhaps not worth the upcharge, as cooking styles for fish have changed, and left this old standard seeming overdone and bland.

A half dozen or more soufflés are also on offer for dessert, and are a great choice. Alternatively, the cheese plate offered a great variety. A basket of madeleines and other pastries, and some truffles finish things off.

Service was very French and very professional, yet managed to also be welcoming and conversational. Let’s hope that La Grenouille can continue to carry on its tradition for another fifty years.

La Grenouille
3 E 52nd St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 752-1495
http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-grenouille-new-york