When Parisian Marc Puil opened Le Deauville 13 years ago, it was a first for Lexington: a restaurant dedicated to the culinary traditions of Puil’s homeland. It might not have been the temple of Gallic gastronomy that is Daniel in New York City or Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, but it was a novelty for Lexington, and diners flocked here.
When it opened, I was living in New Orleans — no stranger to the pleasures of a French table — and when I would make periodic visits here to see my sisters, a meal at Le Deauville was a must. I was never disappointed, especially when a hearty cassoulet was on the menu.
Now that I’m living here, I’m a less-frequent visitor (I had heard that Le Deauville had lost a step or two in recent years, and let’s face it, Lexington now has more dining options). I decided to rectify that on two recent visits, and I’m happy to report that whatever steps it might have lost, it has more than regained.
On my first visit, I started with the French onion soup ($10.50), a frothy concoction that was just the right balance of broth, onion and cheese, and a far cry from the watery offerings frequently found in restaurants.
I followed with a perfectly seared salmon crusted with delicate herbs, celery pureé and mixed garden vegetables flavored with a tarragon sauce ($26.)
My dining companion had the cheese plate ($14 for three cheeses) and she pronounced it equally delectable, although she thought they could have done more with the accompaniments — more toast and crackers, and perhaps some chutney, tomato jam or dried fruit so the cheese wouldn’t look so alone on the platter.
As good as that experience was, I was aching for more authentic French food — the kind you get in hole-in-the-wall bistros in some of Paris’ less frequented arrondissements.
With that in mind, a friend and I went back on a Tuesday night for the all-you-can-eat mussels ($18.50). Le Deauville also has an all-you-can-eat crepe night on Mondays ($19.50), and considering the a la carte prices on the menu, both are bargains.
We ended up having two helpings of the mussels a la Dijonnaise (there are five types of mussels to choose from), and we both agreed that they were the plumpest mussels we’ve had in recent memory. Steamed with white wine and Dijon mustard, they’re substantial enough for a meal, although we started by splitting another Gallic staple — pâté maison with French pickles and mustard ($11).
One dish I haven’t yet had and really want to try because I saw so many diners licking their lips after eating it is the bouillabaise Marseillaise, a heady concoction of fennel broth flavored with saffron and filled with sea bass, snapper, salmon, shrimp, mussels and scallops ($32).
Because it’s a French restaurant, there’s almost as much emphasis on the wine as on the food, and Le Deauville has a regular bar crowd that enjoys pairing small plates with one of the vintages by the glass. At happy hour (5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday), appetizers are half-price.
The rest of the time, the few wines by the glass are reasonably priced. My favorite was a 2007 Cote du Rhone for $8.
I’ve heard some complaining about the slow service, and it’s somewhat justified, but it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because Le Deauville has a French sensibility. Unlike American establishments, the wait staff isn’t in a lather about turning over tables every hour and a half.
Once you’re here, the table — either inside in the art-filled dining rooms or outside on the sidewalk — is yours for as long as you choose to stay. So, relax, have another glass of wine, and pretend you’re in Paris.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Address: 199 N. Limestone
Payment: Major credit cards accepted