Melanie Wong | May 10, 200304:51 PM     18

Saturday night, we ended up at Left Bank as a second choice after first checking out Marché that was fully booked at 8:30pm. While I’d had drinks at Left Bank before, this was my first meal here. We had a 15-minute wait for a table, foregoing seats at the bar.

I loved the warm, welcoming feel and look of the big high-ceilinged room – the buzz from the bar and open kitchen, wooden floors, rosy cherry wood interior, upholstered benches, warm glow of period lighting, French posters, mustard pots on the table, waiters garbed in long aprons. Still I was glad we were seated to one side of the large downstairs dining room lessening the din. Our waiter was terrific, answering questions about the menu and staying in step with our relaxed pace. He was not afraid to make recommendations, and steered me away from the rabbit dish. When I asked whether this was considered a bistro, bouchon, or brasserie, he said Left Bank was a brasserie, honoring the Cuisine de Grande Mere of Roland Passot’s native Lyon.

We started with small dinner salads – mixed greens tossed with a few sweet halves of red and yellow cherry tomatoes and a light, refreshing and somewhat underseasoned vinaigrette. For me there was too much tough frisee, mustard-type winter greens and spiky things – I’m ready for spring greens now.

I’d chosen the porc alsatian – a nearly 2” thick round cut off a brined and spit-roasted pork loin, pan-grilled, glazed with mustard, and served with spaetzle and a savory and overly salty reduction of pan juices. The hunk of pork was dried out on the edges (needed to leave more fat on the rim) but had a nicely moist pink center. The spaetzle were shaped like inch lengths of thick spaghetti, tossed with parsley and pan-fried. I liked the crispness of the carmelization contrasting with the soft chewiness, yet the spaetzle were overly greasy and doused with too much salty and overseasoned sauce to enjoy thoroughly. This dish was fair to good in my book.

Peter had better luck with his rack of lamb. A serving was eight largish New Zealand rib chops served in two sections. He gave it good marks for being rare as ordered, rather than medium rare that’s often served. The bread crumb coating was dryer and not as crisp as I’d like, but the accompanying juices for this dish were more carefully seasoned.

The frites served in a paper cone were decent, fried in clean vegetable oil with creamy centers and nicely crisp on the outside even though very pale in color. I noticed that they stayed crisp even after they cooled down too. No condiments were offered – our waiter brought some garlic mayonnaise when I flagged him down.

I’d brought a bottle from my cellar, 1996 Dehlinger Estate Syrah. Ripe plummy fruit and spice with light vanilla oak shadings, fresh acid balance, and silky texture on the palate, this was a good accompaniment to our meal. Corkage was $10.

For dessert we shared tarte tatin. This was a disappointment. The version here is made with puff pastry and halved Granny Smith apples (three halves per serving), and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The inside layers of the puff pastry were white and soggy, the apple halves were very firm since they were barely cooked. We could have used a knife instead of only the fork and spoon provided as tableware. The caramel sauce was too runny. Call me a traditionalist, but I was expecting pastry crust and softer, quartered apples with luscious caramel and maybe a bit of crème fraiche.

I didn’t see the bill - for two salads, two entrees, an order of frites, one dessert, and one corkage, a good estimate would be about $80 with tax and tip. All in all, it was a huge amount of food (I ate less than half my entrée) at a fair price, mostly cooked in traditional ways accompanied by great ambience. Yet, the homestyle food was missing the magic of a mother’s touch that could turn these simple preparations into something special. Where was the love?

Peter had tried the restaurant before and wasn't that impressed, but thought it was worth another visit. I would be interested in hearing from others who have been here, or to the other Left Bank locations in Larkspur, Pleasant Hill or San Jose. Was this par for the course?

Link: http://leftbank.com

Image: http://leftbank.com/images/index_imag...

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