When you're seated at the five-month-old French restaurant Le Rescatore, you're handed a menu, a wine list, and a review from the Boca Point Viewpoint, a community newspaper, lovingly encased in plastic. Presumably, you're supposed to read it and be impressed by its favorable content. But most likely, before you can get to it, the hostess will come to collect it to give to another newly seated table.
This scenario leads me to the first of many questions for chef-owner Jacques Bagot and his wife, Marie, who runs the front of the house and also sings on weekend nights, accompanied by an elderly woman on piano: If you're so proud of the article, why not make enough copies for every table, so that truly interested parties can scan it at their leisure?
The answer, it seems, is that the Bagots are currently doing things at half-measure in this 55-seat bistro, which was formerly Boca Buns. A complimentary but thoroughly puzzling amuse comprises ribbons of puff pastry and one or two pigs-in-blankets sliced into pieces -- a dinner I might typically feed to my four-year-old. Some pictures are framed; others are simply posters pasted on the walls. The menu advertises that Le Rescatore will cater, but if you request a menu as I did, you might get the same rude retort: a flat "No." And speaking of flat, well, let's just say that Marie Bagot's half-trained karaoke-avec-piano recital would benefit from some lessons.
Then there's the service -- when you can get it, that is. Order a bottle of Sancerre from the wine list and the waitress will top every glass as high as possible to drain the bottle. OK, so now she doesn't have to store it in ice in the seriously cramped passageways between tables. But she really should inquire when the glasses are empty to see if you'd like to order more. As far as water is concerned, let it be noted: We're no longer in a drought. Feel free to fill those glasses, people.
The Bagots do have some authentic experience from which to draw. French native Chef Jacques cooked in his restaurant Le Rescatore in Versailles for 17 years. Marie Bagot, originally from Haiti, attended college in New York before studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and then winding up in Broward County. Some of this pseudosophistication shows on the menu, which is written in redundant Franglais. For example, "traditional French bouillabaisse" (is there any other kind?) and "traditional fish soup from Normandy with safran" are available, though if you want the first to feature shrimp or scallops, you'll be charged an extra two bucks on top of the already pricey $24.95. And then, of course, there's the blurb on the front that boasts "Chef Jacques of 'Le Rescatore France' has proudly served international personalities, Richard Nixon and movie stars." Which of these things is not like the other?
None of this seems to bother Le Rescatore's legion of loyal regulars, the majority of whom appear to be Boca Pointers. No doubt they appreciate being able to enjoy some tender escargots, prepared in a Florentine sauce and dropped into buttery puff pastry. The spa mavens almost certainly like the portobello mushroom salad -- not stuffed with goat cheese, as the menu bills it, but rather smeared with an ultrathin layer of the tangy cheese -- better than I did. A balsamic vinegar marinade dressing the mushroom and an assortment of spring vegetables, which made the plate more like a crudité than a salade, was too deep and challenging for me. But since the salad didn't seem to contain any oils, I can venture that it's a tennis-skirt mainstay.
I doubt even the strictest dieter would enjoy the gazpacho, however, which was the soup of the day. A thin concoction composed of what seemed to be mostly vinegar, the broth tasted a little like cucumber, a little like celery, and a lot like nothing at all. Perhaps if the Bagots are eager to serve a refreshing cold soup, they'd be better-served if they avoided side trips to southern Spain and stuck to the old French standby of vichyssoise.
Main courses are basic Gallic preparations: salmon or chicken-mushroom crepes, braised chicken in tarragon sauce; sautéed beef tenderloin with cognac and wild mushrooms, or broiled flounder with champagne sauce and caviar. A special of the day was a variation on a theme of flat northern-water fish: The flounder was still broiled but napped with a champagne-grape sauce instead. Mild in manner and appearance, the fish was pleasant but nothing more, an unobtrusive but unobjectionable presence on the table. As much as I like flounder -- hey, any New Jersey girl who didn't grow up on the stuff must have lived inland -- a local fish might have more impact here.
Indeed, not much nod is given to the South Florida region at all, save for a lone main course of roasted duck with mango and orange chutney. We requested this with extra-crisp skin, but rather than overly crunchy, it was soggy, putting the truth to the menu's description of the dish as a "crisp half roasted duck." As for the mango and orange chutney, I certainly could divine the orange. Unfortunately, the citrus note did nothing to moisten the duck meat itself, which was dry and unpliable.
I was even more disappointed in the coq au vin, one of my all-time favorite French bistro dishes that seemed truly expensive to me at nearly 20 bucks. Le Rescatore's version was also uncommonly dry, the poultry shredding like cotton under a cat's claws. And that was the dark meat. The Pinot Noir sauce in which it was simmered had a nice, rich consistency, but it also contained enough salt to melt a slug. Oddly enough, the same reduction underscored the noisettes of rack of lamb, a half-dozen tiny, two-bite tidbits still on the bone, which provided handy nibbling opportunities. These rounds of meat were a bit tough and stringy, however, and markedly more rare than we had ordered. The salty sauce did little to tenderize them.
Given the rigid authenticity of the menu, I did as it suggested and ordered a chocolate soufflé for dessert well in advance. The soufflé requires 20 minutes to bake but obviously takes only a second to mix, as ours contained unincorporated egg white that had solidified upon cooking. In other words, it looked as if a hard-boiled egg white had been chopped into the batter. I know it's a religious season and all that, but I'd rather not have a $9.25 dessert resemble an Easter egg.
The Bagots are currently looking ahead to the nontourist season that follows, already adjusting hours (no more lunch) and arranging for a three-course meal of crepes, salad, and dessert -- for $18.95 -- for those seated between 5 and 6:30 p.m. The Bagots don't want me to call this an early-bird special. I'd quibble, but I think I've already given Le Rescatore a strong enough dose of brutal honesty.
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