Le Deauville set the bar high when it opened several years ago, bringing to Lexington real sidewalk dining, a freshness of spirit, impeccable service and amazing, authentic French food. Reservations were not easy to come by. In short, it was the spot to be.
Now time has passed. The novelty is gone, and it seems some complacency has set in. The hawk-eye management that characterized its beginnings has relaxed. The menu is full of typos. Le Deauville also has fallen prey to Lexington's syndrome of "musical chefs" that almost guarantees unpredictable dining experiences in the absence of continuity and a long-standing executive chef.
To be fair, because we have focused on reviewing lunches this summer, the odds that neither the boss nor the head of the kitchen will be on site is further increased. Perpetual presence is impossible.
In spite of these variables, the escargots remain wonderful. Their mushroomlike texture is a perfect pleasure, the snail "liquor" melts into the butter with garlic and parsley, and demi-baguettes from the formidable Sunrise Bakery make the perfect vehicle for sopping up every last drop.
Likewise, the Deauville salad is a good call. The kitchen tosses the arugula in a lovely emulsified balsamic vinaigrette, and the golden and rosy beets are sugar sweet. Three crostini have generous smears of chive-studded goat cheese. It makes a delicious and complete summer lunch.
On both visits, though, some other dishes didn't appear quite as thought through.
Carrot and ginger soup is a great idea, but this one arrived lukewarm — it was offered hot or cold but ended up being in between. Its consistency was watery, and it was under seasoned and undersalted. Another appetizer of two little paté triangles for $11, accompanied only by toast points, mustard and a few cornichons, was overpriced.
Croque-monsieur is France's decadent ham and cheese sandwich, traditionally napped in Béchamel sauce. Not only did Le Deauville's version have barely any Béchamel, with what little there was spread inside the bread, it also showed up as a croque-madame, i.e., topped with a fried egg. I asked myself: What if you don't want the egg?
The grilled salmon fillet was good but hardly special, and it had a scent that resembled fish sauce.
I've also sampled two pasta dishes: mushroom ravioli in a tomato cream sauce with chiffonade of basil, and fettucine with chicken and tomato that also had a thick cream sauce tossed with large chunks of grilled chicken, capers and tiny diced tomatoes. Both were hearty and rich. I had hoped for something lighter on a hot day — the menu did not mention cream in either — but my biggest criticism was the pasta, which needed a couple more runs through the thinnest setting on the roller.
Finally, dessert. Banana mille-feuille, made in house, sounded like a nice end to the meal — but there were no bananas in it. There were, however, plenty of almonds. The buttercream was luscious.
My companions and I were surprised at these fumbles.
I used to love Le Deauville and sense that the original passion might still be alive. It's hard to find a decent salad in Lexington, but you can here, and escargots also are hard to come by. I think the place just needs some tender loving care and attention, and a spark of enthusiasm and commitment, to reignite the flame.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.