Bay Bites

Vol. 8, No. 3
January 20-26, 2000
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Out to Lunch at Les Folies

A year after Les Folies opened on Riva Road, friends and I met for our first meal there. After short lives as Scirocco and Michaelangelo, the eatery has become a French brasserie under the direction of new owners Alain Matrat and Jean Claude Galan. With 60 years of combined restaurant experience and resumés including positions at popular D.C. restaurants like Provence, Citronelle and the Jockey Club, Matrat and Galan are attempting to raise the bar on French dining in Annapolis.

The free-standing building is fairly nondescript from the exterior. The lack of windows focuses attention inward and removes diners from the hustle of traffic outside.

Valet parking is offered weekend evenings to patrons as a courtesy for the limited lot sometimes overflows.

The interior is polished and warm. Layout and structure remain the same. The transformation into a brasserie was made with minor cosmetic enhancements. Ceilings are high, black and unfinished; floors are slate — or tile that looks like slate. Walls are sponge painted burnt orange. Lighting is defused from small pinpoint spots suspended high above among several modern chandeliers. With seating for 100-plus, tables are arranged in varying degrees of closeness. An elevated terrace offers the most privacy. Tables are dressed in white cloths with white paper on top.

The entrance delivers you to the hostess stand and a stylish copper-topped bar. If you happen to arrive early or are waiting for the rest of you party, you may want to pull up one of the eight stools and watch the comings and goings. If you’re looking for a beverage, good luck. We waited over 10 minutes without any offers to wet our whistles. It was an attractive spot to wait, complemented by a large vase of persimmon-colored roses.

When our guests arrived, we were shown to a table tucked in a secluded back corner. While the table was ample, we were extremely close to our neighbors yet seemingly removed from the flow of service.
While we perused the menu, our waiter, who waffled between overzealous and aloof, needed some prodding to recite the evening’s specials. Special starters included split pea soup; duck leg confit; avocado with crab; and venison paté. Entree specials included Dover sole; seafood tourte; cassoulet; osso bucco; and venison.

With the majority of our group thinking meat, a bottle of red wine seemed in order. A nice wine list offered variety without overwhelming. Obviously, French wines were nicely represented, as well as some good domestics with the majority priced between $18 to $60. Departing from the expected, we boldly chose a bottle of Franciscan Merlot Oakville Estate ($42), for a truly fine choice.

A large basket of mixed crusty French and kalamata olive bread with whipped butter made for a flavorful start. Not made in-house, the bread comes from a wood oven bakery in Savage Mill. But we were soon down to business.

Starters for our table included gazpacho ($3.95, chilled tomato soup with onions, cucumbers, bell pepper and garlic); Les Escargots de Bourgogne ($5.95, baked snails in shell with garlic butter); a special for the evening, clams casino ($7.50, six small clams broiled with butter and bacon); and a selection from the raw bar, two each of three breeds of oyster ($1.75 each). While two of the oyster choices were wonderful, the Maine oysters had a very unpleasant taste.

With most dishes a la carte, I opted for a fabulous salad with field greens, pistachios, goat cheese and roasted red peppers ($4.95). It was my highlight.

For entrees we bypassed such poissons as Le Pave de Thon au Poivre ($18.50, tuna steak with black peppercorn crust and lobster sauce) and La Bouillabaisse des Pecheurs ($19.95, medley of shellfish in saffron fish broth with fennel, leeks and tomatoes) and all ordered meat.

Le Steak Frites et mesclun salade ($18.50) was a nice platter including butterfly sirloin steak topped with minced sautéed shallots accompanied by French fries and field greens salad. While the flavor from the shallots was appreciated, the lackluster fries reminded the diner of something he could heat from the freezer. Escalope de veau a la creme ($18.75), a veal steak served with cream and mushroom sauce and sided with lyonnaise potatoes and green beans, was flavorful and amply portioned, although the meat was a bit tough.

The winner for our table was the cassoulet. This slow-cooked stew had a bit of everything in it — duck, pork, sausage and beans. It was heartwarming and delicious. The loser for the table, however, was my Filet de Boeuf Bordelaise ($22.95), a filet mignon of nice size and a light sauce, sided with lyonnaise potatoes and green beans. The problem was that I was specific in ordering a red-to-pink rare-to-medium-rare preparation. It arrived medium well. By the time I tracked down our waiter and had it returned to the kitchen and then received my new serving, the rest of my party had finished their meals. Adding insult to injury, the replacement filet was also overcooked. When this was pointed out to our waiter, no apologies were forthcoming. You’d expect more when shelling out $22.95.

The evening was past its prime, and while we did take a moment to scan the dessert menu, it was time to move on.

2552 Riva Road • Annapolis • 410/573-0970

Proprietors: Alain Matrat & Jean Claude Galan

Reason to go: You can get smaller versions at smaller prices at lunch, served Mon.-Fri. 11am-2:30pm.

Something to think about: French cooking here means no E-coli. You’ll be hard pressed to get anything rare.

Copyright 2000
New Bay Times Weekly