Don't trust me on this one. I was already feeling very happy by the time I walked in the door. I'd had a terrific day. The furniture I'd ordered for my condo in my newly adopted South Florida home of Pompano Beach looked as good as I'd remembered it looking in the store. It all fit and it was the right color. I'd found a great bundt pan for my son-in-law to make caramel rolls in when the kids come to visit at Christmas. All was right with the world. I barely noticed that the entrance to this little Country French place requires you to pass by a non-showplace kitchen on the left and the dishwashing room on the right. I did, however, note that it's quite over the top decorwise. Few unadorned spaces. Each table is topped with a differently designed and colored Provencal tablecloth. The walls are filled with posters of various places in France (and inexplicably one in Tuscany) alternating with lights draped in gathered cloth and tied with bows. A couple of lightposts in the corners of the room and an awning over one of the tables is designed to add Frenchified charm. Add to this several hundred little touches of holiday decor and you've got a pretty busy little thing going on. But somehow in my happy, happy state it didn't seem bizarre or even kitschy, just warm and cozy.
I was warmly greeted by a very busy waitress who it turns out I know. Go figure. I've lived in South Florida only a couple of months though I've wintered here for three or four years before my move so it was still pretty amazing to me to be waited on by someone I'd met at my old rental condo. Perhaps this place is smaller than it seems. I was alone and occupied one of 5 of 15 or so tables filled for the evening. She seated me at the table next to the piano player, I guess so I'd have some company. Turns out to have been a smart move because I'd have gotten very lonely otherwise waiting as I did for over an hour to be served. Don't know what was going on in the kitchen or maybe it was what I ordered at any rate it took a very long time before I actually got to eat. Again, in my happy state, this made me no never mind. Like being in church during a particularly long sermon when you find yourself studying the stained glass windows and the other parishoners, it gave me a chance to look around and study the exhuberant decor and the other diners. I've already covered the former, about the latter I can report that it's nice to be one of the youngest people in the room. Used to be I'd read reviews and frequent places heavily populated by yuppies reasoning that they know good scene and were improving their knowledge of good food. Down here it's the old folks who know good scene, good value and do pretty well on knowing good food. Everyone seemed to be having a swell time, enjoying the music and each other's company. One table of two couples who appeared to be just getting acquainted (when I dine alone I'm a shameless evesdropper) were having a particularly good time. One of the women had her hair styled in the timeless bun that looks so great on women of a certain age. I amused myself by musing about whether or not "women with buns, have more fun." All right, all right the long wait was causing me to add to my already happy state with a glass or two of the Rose de Provence from the not bad wine list. In fact, the bartender sent over one glass on the house in view of my long wait. This was only the first of three such offerings accorded me because of the long wait. I was also provided a free salad--finally some food--and a shot of annisette with my espresso. The salad was dressed in a perfect, classic vinaigrette and featured field greens, perfectly julienned carrots and red cabbage. My hopes were raised for the breast of duck in raspberry and bordeaux that I had ordered. But it was not to be, at least not for quite a while yet.
Meanwhile I was getting to know the piano player quite well. Like the customers she's an older gal who played for years in Chicago and has now also moved to South Florida. She's been at Chez Laurent for a couple of years and to her credit has expanded her repetoire of mostly show tunes to include some classic French ditties in French. That's how she did La Vie en Rose. I complimented her on knowing French and she said she'd had someone write the song out for her phonetically. The lack of authenticity didn't seem to bother the patrons who applauded periodically, dropped bills in her fish bowl and exchanged pleasantries with her as they exited. I noticed that she called them by name and they did the same to her suggesting that this place draws on a solid base of regulars.
So back to food, how was it? Not great, possibly not even very good but by the time I got it I was famished and even happier than when I'd entered. Besides the duck which was done medium rare as I'd requested, there were au gratin potatoes and a vegetable. Former were good but not as plentiful as I'd have liked, latter was unmemorable. The raspberry, bordeaux sauce was a bit overwhelming. All in all, not a terribly satisfying meal but the espresso was great and the annisette (something I've never had before) was good.
So how can you have a less than satisfying meal and still expect that you'll return to a restaurant? I guess because the whole experience was kind of nice. The place is cute. While the food was slow, the service couldn't have been nicer. The waitress (we are just barely acquainted, not friends) was friendly and hard-working. So was the bartender who stopped by the table to joke that tonight we're into "slow food." The menu offers quite a bit of variety leaving me to muse that my food might have been better if I'd ordered differently. Perhaps the lamb shank I was at first considering or the scallops in champagne would have been better--and quicker. And those regulars must have become regulars for a reason. It couldn't have been low prices. At an average of $7-9 for appetizers and $17-23 for entrees this is not as inexpensive a place as you can find in this area for French food. I'm thinking there must have been some magic in the steaming bowl of mussels the waitress placed before one party or the profiteroles she delivered to a couple of other tables. The place had enough going for it to bring me back for a second try, but only if I enter as happy as I did last night.