La Goulue - First Visit
We got to La Goulue for the first time tonight. This spot in Bal Harbour has been the site of some very good, but unfortunately short-lived, restaurants (Petrossian, Elia come to mind). There was a nice crowd there and I'm optimistic the same fate won't visit La Goulue.
It's done up in very typically French brasserie style - the black and white wicker chairs outside, a little more elegant inside, same zinc bar that's been there at least since the Petrossian days. Since it cooled off today, we ate outside. Service was a little shaky to start - we got bread and butter immediately, but then waited close to 10 minutes before anyone came by with water or to take an order - but quickly improved once the waiter got to our table and was excellent from that point on. The waiter said they've been open for about a month and it was his first time doing dinner (rather than lunch).
It's a fairly short and very much standard French brasserie menu. A few soups, including an onion soup and a potato leek, about a half dozen apps including escargot, charcuterie, some raw bar items, scallop w/ celery root and remoulade, an "onion tart" which I think is like a tarte flambe (sort of an Alsatian white pizza w/ bacon & onion) a few salads including a frisee lardon and a couple others, and maybe 9-10 mains, which include a salmon, moules & frites, duck a la orange, a roasted chicken w/ ratatouille, strip steak, hanger steak, steak tartare.
We went very old school: escargot, onion soup, frisee lardon, hanger steak w/ bearnaise and frites. The onion soup was good, very cheesy, nice broth, but nothing that would get me really excited. The escargot were nice, lots of fresh garlic and butter, nice touch that they were each topped with a little puff pastry round (convenient built-in dunker for the garlic butter). Somehow I missed trying my wife's frisee salad, but it looked nice with big hunks of bacon and a poached egg on top of it. The hanger steak was excellent - a really rich tasting cut, nicely done medium rare, good bearnaise on the side, pretty good frites (were a little less crispy than I like, and needed some salt).
Also a pretty nice wine list. We got a 2003 Chateau Gloria for about $50. That's a very good wine from a great vintage for probably less than 2X markup from retail. Pretty nice selection of Bordeaux and Rhone wines. Also a good number of California choices although I wasn't paying much attention (I usually drink American, but when in Rome...)
We had a chocolate souffle w/ a pistachio creme anglaise for dessert, also very good.
Very nice place, much better than average French bistro style food, will definitely go back, probably often. By comparison to other US French bistros I've tried, I would say definitely better than Les Halles in the Gables, better than Bouchon du Grove, not quite as good but close to the old Brasserie le Coze in Coconut Grove (I am dating myself with that reference), not in same league as Tom Keller's Bouchon (tried the Vegas one, not the Napa one).
Hooray! A nice addition to Miami restauarant scene.
I got tell you, the lack of French food in this town amazes me. Talk about dating your self, the last good French restaurant I went to was uh-oh, wow, you got to help me out here, it was in the Gables long ago, quite famous actually, I want to say Festival??? I don't remember...sorry.
Anyway, from the sounds of it, this place is now the one French place to try of the ones you mentioned? I notice you didn't mention Pascals? I have been to none of them, so I am really fishing for the one good place to try. I fondly remember French food, but with the lack of SOFLA proliferation, the closest I've come is La Sandwicherie and A La Folia...certainly not sophisticated choices, but they are in the Hood!
I like Pascal's very much, I just put it in a different, higher-end category than the places I mentioned, which are more casual bistro/brasserie style. And yes, I remember Le Festival too!
For more casual, hearty bistro-style French, La Goulue is probably the best I've had down here (that's still open), although both Les Halles and Bouchon du Grove are decent. Les Halles has a somewhat broader menu - in addition to the moules & frites, steak & frites, etc., they also have a great cassoulet, and I think there's always a choucroute on the menu too. They also have a really nice salad with a duck leg confit and truffled fried potatoes (my idea of a salad).
That's quite a teaser...
I like Gourmet Diner and it used to be a regular rotation place for us, especially with the kids. Haven't been for several months. They do a great roast duck, steaks are usually very nice, great caesar salad - the best, though, are the vegetables souffles that come as sides for the entrees.
I went a couple of weeks ago and had the hanger steak for lunch. Service was adequate if a little ill-informed. I assumed it was due to the newness of the restaurant. When my waiter arrived with the steak there was no bearnaise sauce. When I asked him about it he just looked confused and said "This is the HANGER steak" and I gently reminded him that the menu says it comes with bearnaise. When the bearnaise arrived it was a gloppy, lumpy mess. Not at all the true texture of the sauce but the flavor was fine. The steak was delicious.
The fries were salted appropriately and might have once been crisp but they appeared to have been sitting too long and were a bit limp.
The worst part of the meal was that the restaurant put through a tip on my credit card higher that what I wrote on the slip. I didn't realize it until the charge went through on my online statement several days later but I left a generous tip of $8 on a $39 tab, $14 of which was wine. They ran it through with a $10 tip... I was flabbergasted.
Yomiss, check your statement again after a few days -- lots of restos typically put in a charge more than what you tipped, because they run the card before you fill out the slip. Your credit card puts a temporary hold on the amount, and then when the banking magic happens and the resto reports your actual total, it should readjust. I got this sermon yesterday from my bank when a local pizza joint accidentally charged me $71 instead of $17, but the hold amount was for $80 or so. *shrug*
I understand what you are talking about but no, it cleared with the extra amount, sorry to say. Oddly enough, in my experience my bank usually holds funds for the amount before the tip. I'll see the pending transaction and wonder "what's that?" and then realize it was the restaurant bill from last night and it just hasn't cleared with the tip.
Went back to Goulue for second visit this weekend. Upon further review, I cannot fathom how this place has such a fantastic reputation up in NY if the local branch is any reflection. It's not awful, and some things are pretty good, but it's hard to understand what all the fuss is about.
Started with the onion soup, which is a nice rendition, and a saint jacques salad which was an odd assembly of sea scallops (nicely cooked but completely unseasoned), romaine hearts w/ slivers of parmesan (difficult to eat and an odd and ineffective match for the scallops) and, buried benath the romaine, a tiny pile of very tired and bland celery root remoulade (which was my primary reason for getting the dish!). And for some reason, the frisee lardon - a bistro classic which I recall being pretty good on first visit - is off the menu. What French bistro doesn't do a frisee lardon? Also had the onion tarte (like a white pizza topped w/ caramelized onions and bacon) - very tasty, crust was thin but a little soggy and a rather ungenerous portion (2 slices which would probably amount to about 1/2 of an 8" pizza).
We were there at 6:30 on a Sunday and they didn't have the hanger steak, and ran out of the mussels. ??? They did have the strip steak, which at $35 is a hefty upgrade from the $23 hanger steak (which I prefer). Unfortunately this had to be the smallest $35 strip steak I have ever seen in my life; and while it was cooked to the requested medium rare, it was nonetheless pretty darn tough. The fries, however, were excellent - hot, crispy and salty. They happily did a plain pasta w/ parmesan for our daughter.
Tried several desserts (we did have the kids with us). The vanilla pot du creme was excellent - delicious custardy vanilla, somewhere between a pudding and a flan, with a nice bit of caramel at the bottom and a few little cookies to accompany. Nice presentation, too, with the put du creme done in a little mason jar. The chocolate mousse was a sort of meager portion (the waiter did warn us), basically just a squirt of mousse about the size of half a stick of butter sandwiched between 2 shards of bittersweet chocolate. The mousse was surprisingly on the bitter side of bittersweet - almost too much so, and I'm not big on overly sweet desserts. I had the prune and armagnac ice cream, which was yummy.
The wine list was also not as reasonable as I recalled from first visit. While first visit we got a nice 2003 bordeaux at less than 2x markup, this time around the best "bargain" I could find was a 2001 Chapoutier Belleruche Cote du Rhone at $45 - which is probably about a 3x markup.
On the plus side, I thought the waitstaff were all quite nice, friendly, and attentive, including one host who saw our kids doing some napkin-folding tricks and showed them several new ones. I suspect the next time we get a hankering for French food we'll just go to Gourmet Diner, though.
I really like this place. It is part of my regular week rotation. Usually for the weekend lunch. The fries are amazing! However, ask for fresh ones, there is a big difference. I also am a fan of hanger steak. I talked to the manager about the lack of such a brassierie favorite on the menu. Evidently, the restaurant will not prepare the steak beyond medium rare. Many people were balking and sending the meat back and then complaining that the meat was tough and chewy. Also, people were put off my the natural color of the meat--it tends to the pink side. Put off by the expense of so many "send backs", the hanger steak is now only available as a special. Service is friendly. It gets busy on Saturdays and Sunday, so be patient. Give this place a try. So far, no problem with my credit card!
My second visit to La Goulue, described above, was apparently such a rousing disappointment that it had been more than year before I'd even thought about going back. Yet Mrs. F said she'd had a good meal there recently and convinced me to give it another shot. It was still a mixed bag, but there were enough good things in the bag to get it back in consideration.
The menu is mostly straight-ahead French bistro with a number of concessions made to the "ladies lunching" crowd - after all, it is in Bal Harbour Shops. I remain surprised by the omission of some typical bistro items like the frisee lardon which they had on our first visit, but what do I know.
I started with an off-the-menu special of a torchon of foie gras - a fat slab of poached and cooled duck liver, sprinkled with a bit of crunchy sea salt, served with a shmear of date puree and a few slices of fluffy brioche. Though the serving of foie was surprisingly generous in size, it was oddly ungenerous in flavor, maybe served too cold. The date puree added the sweet contrast that is so often a nice pairing w/ foie, though I felt it was missing the additional component of a hint of tartness that I find is nice to cut through the richness.
Mrs. F started with a tuna tartare which had an interesting addition of little crushed croutons (or possible crispy potato bits) to add a pleasant crunchy contrasting texture. As an entree Mrs. F had grilled baby calamari, served in a little cazuela with a light basil pesto, lemon and olive oil. A simple dish but the calamari have a very nice texture and great flavor.
For an entree I had the steak tartare which was one of the better ones I've had. It was an interesting, semi-do-it-yourself presentation, with a generous - nay, daunting - mound of well-spiced raw chopped beef, surrounded by a ring of minced parsley, onion, and capers, with a raw quail egg mounted in the center of the beef. Mix them yourself as you see fit - mmmm. Not for the squeamish, clearly, but delicious if you like such things. The frites which came with were good though not as good as Le Bon's or Les Halles' when at their best.
Sides of creamed spinach and macaroni gratin were quite good as well, the spinach still maintaining some leafy texture and carrying a distinct whiff of nutmeg, the gratin pungent with good cheese, crispy on the top yet not dried out within.
The kids, somewhat out of character for them, ordered off the kids' menu. The mini burger got the thumbs up from Frod Jr., while Little Miss F's mac & cheese (which we anticipated would be the same as the macaroni gratin which is a side order on the regular menu) was instead the stuff from the blue box. Some kids would rejoice - mine preferred the real deal from the regular menu.
Desserts were quite good. I stuck with the prune & armagnac ice cream, Frod Jr. had a very good apple tart, and Little Miss F had a pink grapefruit sorbet that was almost shockingly, puckeringly grapefruit-y.
The wine list seemed to have some crazy markups but also some decent selections for under $50.
Didn't think I'd be pleased with a "meh" review, but we were disappointed the one time we ate there that we hedged our bets and went for Miami Spice (last year) but the service was so bad we ended up walking out.
We're fans of tartars, whether they're land or sea, so I'm glad to hear these were good. Still don't know if it's worth it to make the trek to Bal Harbor for "meh".
I have dined there as well. The steak tartar was probably one of the best that I have had. Too bad about the Hangar steak that comes with the bernaise. It was great as well. I am glad they are still there, I have old ties to this restaurant. The challenge was that people had comparisons with their Italian counterpart across the way. This is French bistro, cooking is involved. They don't just plate pasta and add sauce. It was a real challenge to explain this. I am tempted to go back to try some of the items I miss, but as stated it's not a "destination".