When I started reviewing restaurants again in 2008 (I had done it in 1992), everyone kept telling me that I had to review Le Deauville — it's brilliant. And so it is, sort of.
Le Deauville is a truly French restaurant at the upper end of Lexington's unofficial restaurant row, North Limestone. The moment you enter the chic establishment, you'll notice the ancient tile floor, worn from decades of foot traffic, and the stamped tin ceiling, thick with layer upon layer of paint after decades of upkeep. If you're lucky enough to visit Le Deauville in warmer weather, it has huge French doors that, when opened, make the place an open-air bar and restaurant.
I went to Le Deauville twice. On the first visit, everything went smoothly; on the second time it was pleasant but not perfect.
That first meal, on a Friday night, went off without a hitch, but Le Deauville wasn't crowded, either. We were seated and served immediately.
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Our dinner started with the soup du jour, pumpkin ($7.50). The French like their vegetables unadorned. So this soup, while slightly thick and perfectly smooth, was plain. An "American" chef would have laced it with mace or nutmeg to make a pumpkin pie soup, but this soup was French in style. And it was boring. — pumpkin, chicken stock and cream. The flavor, only light pumpkin. Not thrilling the way a great soup can be.
On the other hand, the mussels ($10) were brilliant. A dozen or so of the mollusks were treated much like escargot — opened, garnished with garlic, butter and finely chopped parsley, and baked. Sublime.
Le Deauville's shrimp salad ($16) was good but not perfect by any means. Arranged on a bed of frisee, the grilled shrimp — partially peeled —was overcooked and a bit toothy
Our entrees were picture- perfect. The rack of lamb ($29.50) was flawless. Four tiny chops with very long bones were served with ratatouille and garlic-mashed potatoes. The meat was ordered medium rare, and it arrived that way. The potatoes were sumptuous, and the ratatouille — diced eggplant, zucchini, onion, tomato, herbs — was exceptional.
The other entree, coq au vin ($28), is a personal favorite. Chicken thighs were browned with bacon and braised in red wine. The chicken, falling off the bone, was smoky from the bacon and had a slightly herbaceous flavor, thymey. It was heaven.
Desserts — tarte tatin ($8) and gateau au chocolat chaud ($9) — were luscious.
Interesting note on the tarte tatin: In 2002, after I had stopped reviewing restaurants the first time and before I started again, I accompanied the new critic to Le Deauville, then new. We ordered tarte tatin, and something was wrong, very wrong: The kitchen forgot to caramelize the apples. We were served unsweetened, tart apple pie. Yuck.
That didn't happen this time. The apples had been caramelized with butter and sugar, then put in a tart shell and baked. It was the way it was supposed to be and exactly why this dessert is so famous. Wonderful.
The gateau au chocolat chaud — literally translated to "hot chocolate cake" in Franch — was a chocolate lover's dream. When I cut into it, chocolate oozed onto the plate.
That dinner for two, including two glasses of wine ($17), another salad ($12), coffees ($6) and tax but not tip, was $151.58.
The second dinner, on a Saturday, was late and turned into a comedy of errors. Two friends were hanging on the bar when I entered. They informed me that the gentleman at the next table was in the movie Animal House. Check.
In the glow of the Hollywood star, we ordered one of the cheaper items on the menu, hanger steak ($24), and sautéed scallops ($29). We were told the kitchen had one hanger steak left, but it had been given to Animal House and his date (wife, girlfriend, who knows, but she got scallops, too). That brought out the chef, who apologized and then offered us a better cut, the New York strip. Thank you.
But it gave us an opportunity to speak to the "star" about the steak and ask whether he was indeed in Animal House.
After swallowing a bit of humble pie, we were treated to a splendid New York strip (listed for $28). We specified that it be trotted out, and indeed it was served rare.
The other entrée we ordered was sautéed sea scallops. They couldn't have been better anywhere. The seafood was served with a creamy something similar to risotto, but the rice grains were a bit too long to be risotto. Still, it was a nice side.
Desserts were coffee crème brûlée ($7.50 and yummy) and a wonderful homemade nougat ice cream ($9). All of that, plus a good, beef-stock onion soup ($9), a plate of assorted cheeses ($14) and four glasses of wine ($36) came to $136.74, including tax but not tip.
Had the kitchen at Le Deauville stayed on its toes, it would have easily gotten four stars. Instead, it gets three.