Vive la France!

In case you missed it, here is my review of L’Escargot that appeared in last 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.

Saturday marks Bastille Day, commemorating the storming of the Bastille and the close of the French revolution that ultimately gave rise to France as we know her today.

I may not be French, but I always find myself craving fine French food this time of year.

The Monterey Peninsula is home to many great French restaurants: Bistro Moulin, Fifi’s Bistro Café, Le Normandie, Andre’s Bouchée … the list goes on and on.

L’Escargot is a hidden gem in Carmel.

But one that consistently flies under the radar is L’Escargot, tucked away off the main drag in Carmel. The menu at L’Escargot boasts many French favorites, including the signature snail.

On my first visit, my friend and I decided to make a feast out of traditional French appetizers.

The fries were cut thin and cooked crispy!

We munched on an order of hand-cut Kennebec pommes frites ($5.50), cut thin and cooked crispy.

The escargots smelled delicious, the smell of garlic wafting to my nose.

Dinner started with escargots in the shell ($11.95). The plate arrived with six huge snail shells, drizzled with garlic-parsley butter and cradling the tender, juicy morsels. The aroma was intoxicating.

The frogs’ legs were a tad overcooked, but had nice light lemon flavor.

Next, we had frogs’ legs sautéed with garlic-herb butter and lemon ($13.95). The frogs’ legs were just a tad overcooked, sadly. I liked the light lemon flavor — just enough acid to season the delicate meat.

The veal sweetbreads were definitely the favorite on the appetizer menu.

Our favorite dish of the evening was the veal sweetbreads ($14.95), served with flavorful forest mushrooms. But the real kicker was the incredibly rich Madeira sauce. I’d happily order these again, upgrading to a full entrée portion ($29.95).

We split the evening’s entrée addition — a duo of duck with a seared duck breast and a leg confit with kumquat and blood orange demi-glace ($29.95).

It’s no secret that I love duck confit. Sadly, this one was a little disappointing. While the meat was tender, the skin outside was a little soggy.

The duck breast was cooked perfectly, but I was disappointed by the leg confit.

But the duck breast was fantastic, cooked perfectly. The demi-glace was the perfect complement, with a touch of sweet blood orange and tangy kumquat. And the accompanying heirloom Italian broccoli was superb, possibly some of the best I’ve had.

The pate was rich and rustic.

On my second visit, I ordered the housemade paté du jour ($9.95), today a mix of duck and chicken liver with pork, making for a chunky, rustic pate Provenal. I liked the addition of capers for bursts of flavor.

My friend ordered a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels ($10.95). I’m normally not a big fan of mussels — they taste a little too much like the ocean for me — but I figured I’d try a couple.

Normally I’m not a big fan of mussels, but these were superb!

After just one, I was clamoring for more! The mussels were served in a rich sauce made with shallots, vermouth and cream. I’m embarrassed to admit that I went through two baskets of bread in my attempt to sop up every last drop of that sauce.

I couldn’t resist the evening’s menu addition — rabbit fricassee over gnocchi with a mustard Chardonnay sauce ($28.95).

I loved the mustard chardonnay sauce with the rabbit fricassee.

It arrived with three big pieces of tender rabbit. The sauce was so flavorful, with a good kick of mustard tempered by crisp Chardonnay and sweet golden raisins.

The short ribs were so tender. And they’re a bargain as part of the nightly prix fixe menu.

I stole a couple bites of my friend’s Cabernet-braised short ribs ($26.95). The meat was so tender, braised in wine for three hours. The accompanying mashed potatoes were so light, like biting into a cloud of potato.

The short ribs are part of one of the best deals in Carmel — the three-course prix fixe dinner at L’Escargot. Start with the soup du jour, Sonoma goat cheese tart or Parisian butter lettuce salad, then a choice of entrée (fish of the day, Provence-style roasted chicken or the short ribs), and finish with a choice of vanilla ice cream or chocolate brownie for dessert. And all for just $29.99 — it’s a steal of a meal!

If you’re looking for French favorites, L’Escargot is a perfect fit, whether it’s for Le Fte Nationale this Saturday or any time you’re feeling a little French. Oui! Oui!

L’Escargot is on Mission Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Carmel. 620-1942. www.escargot-carmel.com.

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