Bay Bites

 Vol. 10, No. 21

May 23-29, 2002

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Les Folies Revisited
by Chris Kulczycki

Having recently returned from a week of unbridled gluttony in Paris, I was curious to see how Bay Country’s best French restaurant stacked up against the real thing. Les Folies calls itself a brasserie, literally a brewery, and traditionally Alsatian. The menu is long on French classics, with a few Spanish and Italian dishes thrown in. Numerous specials reveal Chef Jean-Claude Galans’ versatility and often upstage the regular offerings.

Dinner here starts with astonishingly good bread and, if you order wisely, the wonderfully fresh shellfish that are a specialty. Belon, Chincoteague and Malpeque oysters, various clams and periwinkles were among the offerings during our visits.

If you prefer your shellfish cooked, then moules Provencal is a good choice, lightly cooked mussels on the half-shell topped with breadcrumbs, herbs and butter. Clams casino, on the other hand, was a letdown, barely cooked bacon, bright orange butter reminiscent of Cheeze Wiz and clams of a questionable age. Other hors d’oeuvres include garlic sausage over lentils, pate and several soups, though the thin cream of asparagus tasted somewhat raw.

As for the main course, there is nothing so satisfying as cassoulet on a cool spring night. Les Folies’ version of this classic casserole of white beans, duck, sausage and lamb was greasy with a slightly chili-like flavor. Still, it’s worth ordering if you’ve never tasted cassoulet.

Outstanding roast lamb loin in an intense Madeira sauce was as good as any in Paris. It’s served with airy mashed potatoes that complemented the lamb and severely spiced ratatouille that overpowered it.

The quail stuffed with goose liver lacked the texture and crisp skin of the best birds I’ve tasted in Europe. And the stuffing was closer to Thanksgiving than foie gras. Superb potatoes gratin and nicely cooked vegetables filled out the plate.

Pan-seared salmon over polenta was nicely done with a thick spinach sauce. The polenta was slightly browned and flavored with sun-dried tomato. Unfortunately, I was able to taste it only after being presented the wrong salmon entrée. The kitchen did rush to prepare the proper version — while my companion’s dish dried under a heat lamp — but I was still disappointed that the salmon wasn’t medium rare as promised.

A huge slab of perfectly pan-seared rockfish atop spinach risotto with a sweet mustard sauce was on special. In most restaurants I would have been impressed with this dish, but in one of this caliber I am picky and noticed that the risotto’s texture was gelatinous and the sauce was too oily.

A diverse, ample and reasonably priced wine list is skewed toward France, as it should be, but a nice selection of California and Oregon vintages is included. We particularly enjoyed Chateau Carbonell Cote du Rhone and a lovely white Bordeaux from Chateau Thibault Graves.

It wouldn’t do to miss dessert in this, or any, French restaurant. Crème Brulee was served cold, but the texture was smooth and the flavor rich, about the best I’ve had in the United States, but still short of that in a top Parisian eatery. A pear poached in red wine served with ice cream was heavenly. The Grand Marnier soufflé was indeed grand, soft, almost runny in the middle and rising to a formidable browned crown. And the chocolate gateau managed to be both light and decadently rich.

Despite legends of rude waiters, I’ve found service in France to be professional, knowledgeable and friendly without the over-familiarity too often found in American restaurants. Les Folies’ staff operates in the best French tradition and does an admirable job of it; we’ll just put aside that salmon incident, as well as a substantial miscalculation of our bill on one occasion. Dinner for two will likely run $100 to $150; that’s a bit more than the cost of a similar meal in the city of light.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Les Folies to its counterparts in France since it lacks both competition and some of the superb ingredients that are easily obtained there. Even though it’s a notch below the best Parisian originals, Les Folies is a wonderful restaurant. I’d gladly eat there every week.

Les Folies
410/573-0970 • 2552 Riva Road • Annapolis
Proprietor: Alain Matrat
Reason to go: Superb shellfish and the best French cuisine in Bay Country.
Something to think about: For the price of a few meals here, you could buy a cheap ticket to Paris.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly