My aunt came to town this week -- the is the same aunt from my Unfussy French request of last year (linked below). The same parameters this year landed us at Tournesol for an 8pm reservation on saturday night.
First of all, the room was just right. My uncle liked the neighborhood feel, the noise level wasn't too bad despite the fact that the place was packed, the atmosphere was welcoming. We waited in the storefront window -- our table wasn't ready till about ten after. My aunt ordered a bottle of Burgundy. I don't drink expensive French wine often. This bottle was a Cote de Nuits (i don't know if that's the pertinent bona fide). I have a preconception about french reds, that they're intense and tanniny, complex and challenging, with bitter afternotes. This wine was nothing like that: it was fruity and full, sparkling with light flavor notes, no trace of any tannin,no bitterness, nothing but clear pleasant flavors. I really enjoyed it. We sipped our wine and ordered:
Here's the rundown of what we ate:
Chicken Liver Pate with toast points and garnish. This was a very good appetizer. The pate was light textured, almost fluffy/mouusy. The flavors were intense and well complemented by the cornichons and mustard.
Salade Lyonnaise: My girlfriend enjoyed this very much. I speared a cube of lardon - it was excellent, salty smoky, crispy and savory.
Frogs Legs: This was one of the daily specials: My uncle had it, and my girlfriend snagged a bite, but I didn't try any. She reports that it was delicious.
Escargots: they were sauteed with plenty of butter and parsley. I think I prefer the version that comes in itsown little metal compartment: that notwithstanding these snails were good: the sauce was very rich.
Sauteed Leeks: I don't know how these were.
There was also bread on the table - three pieces of warm baguette individually wrapped in their own butcher paper collar. It was excellent bread -- i didn't think to ask where they got it from, but it was a touch better than the baguette I had from the MEdici Bakery last week - more crust and more body to the interior.
After our appetizers, the waiting began. It began and persisted. We began to wonder if we'd been forgotten. A full half hour elapsed before anyone on the staff had the presence of mind to apologize for the delay and check on our orders. The 6'3" hostess came by and apologized. Another 15 minutes elapsed. The hostess came by again to apologize and to guarantee that our orers were the next out of the kitchen. 5 more minutes and our entrees arrived, Kerensa's salmon was piping hot and perfectly cooked, my aunt's sparerib special was steaming, but the two steak frites we had ordered were cold. We sent them back immediately, and 5 minutes later they came back with new steaks, new plates, new frites. All as well with the world.
My uncle was very pleased with hs steak, I was less enamored with mine. The memory of my 2 pound t-bone at gene and georgetti's with its thick crust of char and juicy seeping interior eclipsed for me the appeal of Tournesol's NY Strip. But the fries were excellent, especially with a little extra salt. My aunt's braised spare ribs were very tasty (not as good as Lem's, but whaddya gonna do?). The sides that came with it were less memorable - braised cabbage and a vizarrely mashy/starchy/sticky herd of chestnuts, with almost no appealing qualities.
They brought us complimentary glasses of dessert wine -a cloyingly sweet moscato d'asti (saraco, i think). It was described accurately on the dessert menu as peach grape soda. Not entirely my cup of tea, but it was a very nice gesture of them, and went a long way to make up for the ridiculous wait for the main courses. Desserts were very good, especially my trio of custards: creme brulee, chocolate pudding and cute little flan.
Overall, the food was very good. ZThe menu didn't teem with dishes that were hugely appealing, many of the meat dishes had unexciting fruit based sauces or garnishes, but I wouldn't rule out going back. Once they recognized that we were getting disgruntled about the elapsed time between courses, they were very attentive and responsive, and went out of their way to make sure we felt happy.
I feel less ambivalent about retuning to the place Kerensa and I went tonight for dinner: So Gong Dong Tofu House: I'm thinking of going for lunch tomorrow, and for dinner every night this week. We only had two dishes: dolsot bibim bap - the korean menu staple of mixed vegetalbe and beef on top of rice cooked in an oiled stone bowl to a savory crisp, and a foot-wide seafood pancake. Vital Info and Gwiv and Zim and others have posted about this place in the past. The room was completely empty at 7:50 on a sunday night The food was phenomenal. The service was attentive and speedy, even though the waitress appeared to understand about half of what we said (she brought out the mexican kitchen staff to translate at one point). When she felt we weren't enjoying the bibimbap in the correct way, she stepped up and scraped the last bit of red-chili sauce into the bowl and stirred it up until she felt it was prperly mized. I blew my nose, and 3 seconds later, she stepped up with a fresh napkin. Solicitous, kind and friendly.
The panchan were interesting and tasty - i especially liked the mung-bean jelly with chili/black bean sauce and the marinated fried fishcakes. The broth that came with the bibimbap was somehow both mellow and intense. And the pancake was very good. And the crunchy rice at the bottom of the stone bowl was incredible - oily and crunchy and satisfying. I'd go back in a second.
Tournesol is at 4300 odd north lincoln, SO gong Dong is at 3307 W Bryn Mawr.