Thursday, January 17, 2008

January Is Excess: Restaurant Review: Les Folies

I can't believe that in the two and a half years I've been writing here, I've never reviewed Les Folies. I've been there a million times, both for lunch and for dinner, usually with my grandmother and various other family members. I know I've mentioned it here, but I've never written an actual review.

Time to remedy that.

I'll start at the end: Les Folies is a fantastic restaurant. I don't think I've ever had a bad meal or bad service there. Whether it's lunch for two or dinner for eight, the kitchen and staff are consistent and strong.

This past Saturday, Cooper and I had dinner there with my parents, sister, brother and his girlfriend (no Dixon - it's not a place to take kids). We were celebrating my brother's 30th (only a few weeks late). Our reservations were for 6 pm, and we'd gotten them just the day before. By 7 the room was full.

Service was quiet and extremely competent, as always. You won't find an overly familiar waiter with "how are you guys doing?" gum-snapping enthusiasm at Les Folies. It's understated, to say the least.

We each started with an hors d'oeuvres or salad. Cail (my brother's girlfriend) and I got the escargots (which comes with the eyelash curler-like utensil, unlike at Petit Louis). I've had it before, and it's very good, though it might actually be a little too garlicky for my taste. I'd just eaten the same dish at Petit Louis a few weeks before, and I like PL's slightly more subtle interpretation better. But still, great.

Unfortunately, I can't remember everybody's starter. My mom and brother, I think, just got Caesar salads and my dad ordered something that involved endive and blue cheese that looked good, but that I thought I could make at home. I convinced Cooper to order the foie gras special - and we were all glad he did. A thick slice of foie gras checkerboarded with (I think) duck mousse, it was served with an amazing brioche. It was way too rich for one person, really, but everybody at the table enjoyed a bit of it.

My dad and brother won dinner. My dad ordered the wild boar special (listed on the menu as "wild board" and if the waitress wasn't sick of that joke by the time we left, I'm SURE she was by the end of the night) - I didn't taste it, but it looked crispy and gamey and perfectly sauced. Tom ordered the rabbit special, which involved rabbit cooked about five different ways - including a little tiny presentation of the ribs still on the bone. His plate looked like crazy modern art.

Actually, my mom also did well with a poussin in hazelnuts special with a delicate sauce she totally gushed about.

Cail and Erin ordered safe bets from the main menu - the lamb for Cail and veal in cream sauce for Erin. I've had them both (I've had the veal like 10 times) and am never disappointed.

Unfortunately, Cooper and I both were a little disappointed with our entrees. Not because they weren't good - they were - but because we should have ordered more adventurously. We both got steak frites. I'm not sure why - I rarely order something so simple I could make it at home. And it was good - the frites, especially, were perfectly crisp and salty - but again, we could have that any night.

We got over it, though, with dessert. We all had souffles - some grand marnier, some chocolate. You have to order the souffle with your meal, so they have time to cook, but it is well worth it to make the decision early. The grand marnier souffle (my preference) comes with creme anglaise and is light, fluffy and decadent all at once.

Overall, a great meal.

But a few notes on the experience and ambiance, some good, some bad. First of all, the location sucks. Annapolis is a beautiful town, but the spot where Les Folies is located is, well, not. It's on Riva Road, just off 97 and next to a farm supply store. Seriously. Parking gets tight and you're not supposed to turn left to leave the lot (which is what everyone wants to do). I wish they'd move downtown, where parking is also tight, but at least the area has charm. No offense to Bowen's Farm Supply, but, well, it's not charming.

And the overall feel. As I mentioned, the service is pretty much flawless - and very quiet, which is how I like it. It also happens to be how my grandmother likes it. Along with thousands of other grandmothers. All of whom go to Les Folies. This IS your father's French restaurant.

The decor is sort of upscale brasserie, kind of Toulouse Lautrec-ish, and the menu is some brasserie, some a little more upscale than that, and some Meditteranean (paella's on the menu). There's something of an emphasis on seafood. But all the messages are a little mixed, so it ends up just feeling "Frenchy" - which is fine.

What's not fine, though, are the plates. They're horrendous - white with weird 80's Art Deco designs. I'm still trying to figure out the aesthetic motivation behind them.

But here's the real problem with Les Folies: I can't help but compare it to Petit Louis. The food is certainly comparable, though Les Folies might have a little more variety and it also might be a little more expensive. I think the wine lists are also comparable. But to me, Petit Louis feels like a younger person's restaurant.

This isn't entirely fair or rational - Petit Louis is full of its fair share of blue-hairs every time I go there. But there are younger people, too, and some children. Those are a rare sight at Les Folies.
These detractions, though, aren't fatal. Les Folies is still one of my very favorite restaurants and I will never turn down a meal there.

But I wouldn't be upset to see them by the, not at all.

1 comment:

Cail said...

I COMPLETELY agree with you on the garlicky-ness of the escargot. I love garlic, and tend to use it in, on, and around everything I cook, but the garlic in the escargot didn't seem cooked in any way. As a result, it had that sharp biting flavor that makes me say to myself, "Oh dear-- I'm not going to be able to talk to anyone tonight without being conscious of my breath."


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