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Restaurants & Bars 8

L'Anne - fine dining, perhaps, but too comfortable for me

dickson d | Mar 19, 200409:07 AM

It has been an ongoing topic on this board - and a subject of some contention as well - about authenticity and Americanization of food. This is sort of about that, but not really. What it is about is whether a fairly sophisticated suburban audience will support creative and adventurous cuisine. I think L'Anne has voted no.

L'Anne is a Vietnamese/French fusion restaurant, quite nice, in downtown Wheaton. Last night I had the pleasure of participating in their special second anniversary dinner, a fixed menu event with paired wines. L'Anne had taken a somewhat conservative approach to "fusion" from the start. Dishes are much more French, and the fusion only comes into play in that there are some dishes on the menu that are mostly Vietnamese, the others all French; not a combination of styles in a single dish. So the chef, while quite good, started out in a decidedly unadventurous direction.

We arrived for appetizers and cocktails. There were platters on the bar and waiters circulating, among the crowd of perhaps 40 people. First clue: lovely tempura shrimp were accompanied with old school, chunky cocktail sauce (among the world of possible sauces, this is not one I would have even imagined, so I guess this is a kind of adventurousness). The high point was an interesting little mound of pickled beets with a touch of mayo on toast. Or perhaps the little grilled mushroom caps stuffed with what seemed a lot like chopped potatos au gratin. No, really it was the house smoked (apple wood, cold smoke, they proudly told me when asked later a propos of a different dish) salmon on toast. Now, none of this was bad, and some was quite tasty (there was also a strange sushi mound thing, sort of a maki base, rice & seaweed wrapped around cucumber, then eel, then egg on top, pretty bland as a totality, and best enjoyed as separate bites, IMO). But it was pretty much a selection that would not have challenged my grandparents (for those who made that comment about the Moon Palace dinner, trust me, this was worlds safer). Nothing particularly creative or interesting.

The theme continued and I will try to zip through the meal:

A small mound of (from the base) spinach, roasted quail, sauteed foie gras, in a natural jus with black lentils. Rich tasty, nicely crisped foie gras, quite pleasant combination of flavors when eaten altogehter in a bite. Accompanied with Kir Royal, heavy on the liqueur to up the sweetness. This accompaniment did not work for me, tho it was an interesting attempt.

Steamed then browned with a torch Taylor scallops in a buttery, herby broth reputed to have Osetra Caviar (which I could not see or taste). Nicely done, comfort food. Ferrari Carano '02 Fume Blance accompanied it which is an okay wine, but not at all up to the level I expected with this meal.

A truly great salad course, that I will copy at home soon. Stilton Fondue (melted stilton and cream) drizzled around baby greens and grapes with a Hugel Gentil 01. This worked for me every way it could. The Gentil is some sort of Alsatian white combo I think. Our hostess could not say (!), but it seemed like Pinot Gris mostly. Leaving all vinegar out of the salad course sure helps with the wine matching, too.

An interesting meat course - Apple wood cold smoked beef tenderloin with roasted squash in a CDP 79 wine sauce. The smokiness overwhelmed everything else, and this only worked when eaten with the squash. Sadly, the squash was just little bits as more of a garnish, so one could not get enough to go with all the meat. Still, at least he was trying here, and the execution was nice, even if the flavors were totally out of balance. Wine: Domaine Font de Michelle CDP 01 - acetone nose, somewhat tart flavor. Okay with the smoky meat and this wine may age & turn into something some day, but I doubt it.

Dessert: Coconut tapioca pearls with tropical fruits. Nice ice cream in the middle which, as it melted, provided a creamy soup. Quite pleasant and obviously an oriental touch (the only, other than the appetizers) to end the meal. '00 Nicolas Sauternes was quite pleasant, not memorable.

Am I being too harsh in saying this chef is way too far into his comfort zone and needs to venture out? Perhaps. But the meal, for a special occasion showcase, just seemed safe. The wine served was generally unimpressive and I kept getting the feeling we were all being talked down to in order to appeal to a broader audience and make a good profit (the wines bordered on being cheap, IMO).

Hopefully I have given you enough to make your own conclusions, now here are mine.

Part of this may be frustration that I had committed to this a while back, and as a result had to miss CrazyC's Penang feast (which was probably worlds better at half the price). But still I feel that L'Anne has faltered and is no longer even a contender for the best fine dining in the western burbs. Perhaps there are some interesting dishes on the regular menu, but I want a little more for my dollars and do not plan on heading back soon. With Les Deux Gros done and gone, I am not sure what is. The only even slightly Haute spot I can think of that is doing good work right now is Bistro Banlieue, but I am sure there are others and I will search for them. Suggestions are welcome!


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