The Grand Café was grand, all right.
We all loved the country French cuisine that nourished both body and soul, the warm care of its on-the-spot owners. When it came time for them to part with that sweet piece of real estate, we wept.
Well, those days of mourning are over — and how! The good news is the new Grand Café is even grander.
It’s now the domain of another couple — the James Beard Award-nominated Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone. (Among their combined credits: La Belle Vie, Sea Change and Nashville’s Catbird Seat — voted best in the entire Southeast — and even an assignment at Copenhagen’s Noma, rated best on the entire planet by those who rate those things.)
It’s a sea change from the grand old days, all right — and far more ambitious. Midway into the year, I’ll step out on a limb and declare it the best new restaurant of 2017.
It’s not for the faint of palate, nor budget.
Your first clue is the wine list — which carries a welcome Austrian accent — virtually all above $35. Never mind. Just enjoy the evening, and go back to peanut butter later.
Start with some of the inspired inventions called Little Things ($5–$10). In fact, start with the foie gras royale; order it again for your main course and yet again for dessert, it’s that delicious. What it is, is an innocent-looking eggshell filled with the most satiny, beyond-rich foie gras mousse ever, then given a generous cap of crème Gitanes. The only Gitanes I know of are wicked-strong French cigarettes, and yes: turns out this is a (lightly) tobacco-flavored topping. Don’t think this through, just order it.
And then — as Chef Erik, strolling by, strongly suggested — the chicken jambonette. It’s a glorified meatball pierced not with a cocktail stick, but a chicken bone, and presented with a dollop of bold mustard. Next time, I’ll add the Paris Brest pastry filled with chicken liver and painted with a black honey glaze. Or the … oh, stop!
Bypassing a pair of salads ($8–$10), we chose a suite of options off the For the Table list ($12–$18). First, a slender slice of sturdy pork terrine — straight-up from a Parisian brasserie, you think, until you discover, to your delight, it’s frosted with crème fraiche for balance and accompanied by bits of tart-sweet rhubarb and celery as a refreshing cleanser. They come together on your palate as more than the sum of those parts.
Another French classic next, one not often seen here in the middle of the cornfield — a pike quenelle, constructed of a sliver of that mild, pearly fish enclosed in a buttery egg batter. After poaching, it hits the ramekin in a splash of deeply-flavored crayfish sauce, with another little critter set atop. As the French say (or ought to), yum.
The five entrees ($18 for delicious-sounding duck-egg dumplings; others $24–$39) represent further tweaks on classic bistro fare — sole Veronique (how long since you’ve seen that on a menu?), roast chicken, spring lamb and our choice, short ribs. Out came two supremely tender, ultra-flavorful chunks of beef atop a perfect sauce Bordelaise. Add veggies ($5–$6) if you wish.
Better yet, order dessert. And that’s not just a suggestion, it’s a command.
Don’t tell me you don’t like prunes, either, because they’re the best thing on the short, sweet list ($6–$7). They’re steeped in Armagnac, shot with a bright bite of lemon, then settled under a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or order the milk chocolate pot de crème if you must, or the Bourbon baba.
The rooms form a pleasant backdrop for the kitchen’s high-wire act: simple and clean, with walls of palest pink (matches the water glasses) and sturdy, farmhouse-type framing on a line of mirrors shaping the hefty booths with their mismatched settings. Tables also align under a high tin ceiling that, alas, echoes the din of conversation, making for a noisy room.
Servers are as friendly and helpful as Scouts. Give them each a merit badge. Save some for the crew in the kitchen, too.
3804 Grand Ave. S.