Bird is the word

In case you missed it, here is my review of Le St. Tropez restaurant that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

One restaurant that’s been on my “to try” list for a while is Le St. Tropez. I always stroll past Le St. Tropez after feasting elsewhere on the Dolores restaurant corridor, but never think to dine here before filling my belly.

Le St. Tropez's infamous roast chicken was too tempting, and demanded an encore dinner.

So one dark and stormy Thursday night, I decided to take the plunge and got together with a friend for dinner at Le St. Tropez.

Our starters produced mixed results.

The escargot was pretty good, until that last sandy bite.

The escargots — served with Pernod-scented garlic butter (six for $10) — were nicely seasoned, but I was a little disappointed to encounter a particularly sandy snail. It’s a risk that comes with the territory dining on shellfish, but it’s never fun.

The salad had a great combination of flavors.

The salade des artistes ($9.50) was outstanding. The flavors were so nuanced for a salad — a mix of sweet, tart and earthy flavors thanks to the combination of berries and beets.

The duck was flavorful, but not as crispy as I like.

For my entrée, I tried the canard rôti aux framboises — crisp, roasted duckling finished with a raspberry glaze ($23). The meat was nicely cooked, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t all that crispy outside. (You know how much I love a good bite of crispy duck skin!)

The pairing with raspberries was unexpected — but it worked nicely. The flavors certainly made up for the shortcomings in crispiness.

My friend always orders Le St. Tropez’s crepes flambées suzette ($18, serves two) for dessert. It doesn’t take much to convince me to order anything that’s flambéed tableside, so I didn’t protest.

Nothing like dinner and a show, especially a show with fire!

It was entertaining to watch our server finish the crepes, squeezing out some fresh lemon juice, zesting an orange, then igniting some Grand Marnier to finish.

The finished crepes!

The crepes were tasty, but I actually preferred the saffron panna cotta with orange tapioca pearls ($7).

The saffron panna cotta was a sight to behold with vibrant colors and beautiful spun sugar.

This dessert was a sight to behold — vibrant yellow, and topped with a beautiful twist of spun sugar. At first, we were uncertain about combining citrus and saffron, but by the end we were ready to order a second one. It was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate after dinner.

Throughout our meal, we were teased by the aroma of Le St. Tropez’s signature poulet rôti aromatique pour deux — a whole chicken roasted with herbs and carved tableside ($44) — that was delivered to the table next to us.

It’s a delicate dish, one you have to order 24 hours in advance to ensure it’s cooked to perfection when you arrive.

The allure of the chicken was too tempting to ignore, so we returned for another feast at Le St. Tropez a couple weeks later to try it.

This time, I sampled the day’s soup and salad — a mushroom vegetable soup ($6.50) and endive and poached pear salad ($10).

Unfortunately, this special salad wasn't as tasty as the salade des artistes.

The soup wasn’t as hearty as I’d hoped. The salad was a bit of a letdown — the accompanying dijonnaise sauce was applied far too liberally and even the light sweetness of the pears couldn’t cut through that rich sauce.

But all was forgiven as soon as that chicken came out.

The chicken feast, ready to be carved, tableside.

The smell of the herbs was heavenly, immediately whisking us away from the dreary weather outside and into the French countryside.

The chicken was so flavorful and the meat so succulent.

The flavor was incredible — so rich and buttery. One of my friends remarked that it was like “chicken butter,” and I couldn’t have put it better myself. And the meat was perfectly cooked — moist and juicy.

Chef/owner Jean Hubert is a gregarious chef who clearly takes pride in preparing fine French food. You’ll likely see him making his way from table to table chatting with diners as if they were old friends, then popping back into the kitchen to check on the chicken or plate a dessert.

In his expert hands, that chicken has rocketed up my list of the best bites of the whole year! Make a date and call ahead for that delicious bird — you won’t regret it.

Le St. Tropez Restaurant is on Dolores Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues in Carmel. 624-8977 or www.lesttropez.com.

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