Stellar entrÃ©es and a trÃ¨s authentique dÃ©cor make it easy for diners to overlook
the few minor missteps at this Larchmont bistro.
Encore Bistro FranÃ§ais is a commendably unpretentious French bistro in a leafy stretch of “downtown” Larchmont. The walls are a rich yellow, the lighting fixtures are Tiffany-style drooping lilies, while the dÃ©cor consists of wine barrels, an oversized bottle of Richard pastis, plus lots of French food posters, Camembert labels and collages made from packets of Gauloise and Gitanes. TrÃ¨s authentique. The service was commendable, too, pleasant and efficient without being intrusive.
The food was another story, however, at least the evening we dropped by for a visit. The problems were up front with a series of appetizers that struck us all as fundamentally flawed. The onion soup, as classic a bistro dish as you can get, was overly sweet and fairly groaning under the weight of excessive amounts of bread and GruyÃ¨re cheese. The result was a lumpy, soggy mess. The crab cakes were light and eggy, but tasted too little of crab.
But the real disappointment was the patÃ© maison, which was dry and almost flavorless. This is probably less Encore’s fault than the result of certain local market forces, i.e., the tendency of middle-class American restaurant-goers to draw back in horror at the slightest fleck of fat on their plate. But fat is vital to a patÃ©—it’s what gives it its richness and satiny sheen—which is why the Encore version seemed positively pinched without it. On the other hand, the tomato and mozzarella salad was pleasant and tasty and, arranged as it was in a red and white swirl punctuated with strips of green basil, rather nice to look at as well.
The entrÃ©es were a major step upward. The sweetbreads were firm and satisfying in a coarse mustard sauce that had just the right amount of piquancy. Ravioli, consisting of spinach rolled up in paper-thin sheets of pasta bathed in a pungent mushroom sauce, was an example of how a vegetarian dish can be as sturdy and filling as meat. But the duck was particularly outstanding—slices of pinkish breast meat alongside what the menu described, complete with quotation marks, as “confit”-style leg—meaning, I suppose, that it was slow-cooked in lots of rich, yellow duck fat. For all us fat addicts, this at last was the real thing, meat so deep, dark, and dense it was practically nutty. The moulis that we washed it down with (Chateau Splasse-Spleen ’98) balanced things off with just the right tannic astringency.
Roast chicken, on the other hand, is roast chicken, although the Encore version we sampled came nicely dressed in a slightly vinegary sauce and was accompanied by a small mountain of soulful french fries.
The desserts were excellent. The tarte Tatin was deep and opulent (although a bit unevenly heated), while the chocolate fondant was bittersweet and melting at the core. The crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e was just as crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e should be, with a sugar crust you had to break through to get to the still-warm egg and cream underneath. The fruit-filled crÃ¨pes were just about perfect, and although it’s probably not worth mentioning, the espresso at the end of the meal was entirely minus that burnt, bitter flavor that is all too common at places where they forget to clean the coffee machine from one month to the next. There you have it—a weak opening, but a strong finish. We would have stayed for a brandy or an eau-de-vie, but we had a long drive ahead of us and, besides, three of the four members of our party were dying to catch the new Austin Powers movie playing around the corner. One has one’s prioritiesâ€¦
ENCORE BISTRO FRANCAIS
22 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont
Lunch, Mon. to Sat. 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. 5:30-9:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Sun. 5 to 8 pm