Apparently that's not the case in downtown Hollywood, where Sunday turns the place into a ghost town. Just last week my family and I were the only ones wandering around, peering into shuttered windows, and pulling on locked doors. The streets were so empty I expected a tumbleweed to come cartwheeling down Harrison Street.
Some would have us believe that downtown Hollywood is a bustling tourist destination. That the excitement never ends. The city never sleeps. Well, I have news for you, Hollywood. If businesses are closed, you can't attract tourists who don't care what day of the week it is, because, hey, they're on vacation. Imagine if South Beach or Las Olas hunkered down on Sunday. It's the surest way to kill a booming hot spot.
Perhaps that's why a handful of Hollywood shops and restaurants have bitten the dust lately, including Impromptu, Cafe Eighty-Eight Society, and Tac "O" the Town. Even worse, no new restaurants have replaced them, and the "for lease" signs in the windows make the area look dismal. I'm now worried about my favorite downtown brew-pub, the Abbey. Although it's open on Sunday, my husband and I were just about the only ones quaffing India Pale Ales there recently.
Fortunately, for those of us dumb or optimistic enough to think that downtown Hollywood is a great place to have fun on the tail end of a weekend, a couple of restaurants also ignore local custom. Most notably, Le Pastis, a terrific little French place on Harrison Street, is not only open on Sunday, but it lifts the spirits of the disillusioned with a complementary starter of fresh French bread, crisp croutons, and garlicky black olive tapenade.
Although Le Pastis is named for the alcoholic drink with a strong licorice flavor (the French version of ouzo), it serves mostly beer and wine. Chef-owner Patrick Sorne and his wife, Jilda, who hail from Bordeaux and Marseilles respectively, also mix a delightful kir royale (cassis and champagne). The cozy 75-seat cafe has plush, dark green carpeting and tablecloths and wallpaper that echo each other with a theme of wheat and olive branches. Evoking the sunny skies of Provence, the atmosphere seems to attract families; we noticed patrons of various ages, from babies to senior citizens, all of whom were content to wait for the home-cooked fare in the quaint, family-run haven.
The menu is limited to 4 appetizers and 14 entrees, but it's supplemented by specials, two of which, soup and pasta of the day, were both subtle and yet forthright. Cream of tomato soup was neither too heavy nor too acidic, a lovely blend accented with herbs. I preferred it to the more vibrant French onion soup gratinee, which had been left under the broiler too long. The pasta was a main-course portion of linguine -- the foods of Provence are influenced by both Italy and Spain, given the region's proximity to those countries -- topped with strips of filet mignon that had been sauteed in a buttery mushroom sauce. The steak was tender, the mushrooms were velvety, and the pasta was firm -- good textural counterpoints.
One hallmark of Le Pastis is the quality control. If fish and game don't arrive fresh, they're not served -- which is why my first choice, an entree of roast duck with peach and port wine sauce, wasn't available the night we dined. I settled instead for a main course of frogs' legs, but the dish was hardly a sacrifice. The frogs' legs were the best I've eaten in South Florida. With the Everglades nearby, you'd think that good frog legs would be easy to come by. But most of those I've encountered down here have been tough and pungent. At Le Pastis, the ten or so frogs' legs were delicate but meaty, the hunks of white flesh separating easily from the fragile bones. A chunky tomato, garlic, and white-wine sauce set them off without obscuring them.
Variations on the tomato, garlic, and wine combination can be found all over the menu, from the shrimp entree broiled in the same sauce as the frogs' legs to the grouper broiled in a similar sauce that includes olives and capers. We started with a dish of bay scallops, served in a casserole with, you guessed it, tomato and white-wine sauce. Basil brightened this version, adding a bit of a peppery bite to the pearly white nuggets of scallops.
The meat entrees are among the most expensive items, though none tops the $20 mark, and they're also among the tastiest. Veal scaloppine was expertly prepared, the medallions of veal pounded, breaded, lightly fried, and dressed with a tangy butter and white-wine sauce. Rack of lamb was masterful, the four musky chops coated with the herbes de Provence that the owners bring back from France in their suitcases about every six months. My only complaint concerns the side dishes. Potatoes Dauphinoise, scalloped potatoes laced with cheese, butter, and cream, were dry and stale, as was the yellow rice that accompanied the frog legs and the disintegrating ratatouille that accompanied all the entrees.
Dessert, on the other hand, redeemed the restaurant. We passed over a chocolate souffle, which would have taken 20 minutes to bake (if you're interested, order this early), but we weren't at all disappointed by the rich, chocolate chip-laced chocolate layer cake we consumed instead. Creme brulee was also pleasant, but the true star here was an excellent tarte Tatin. This upside-down apple tart ranks among my favorite pastries, especially when the apple is soft and caramelized like plantains in a Cuban restaurant, as it was here.
As good as it is, the 18-month-old Le Pastis can't single-handedly revitalize Harrison Street. It does, however, serve as an example of how to succeed in Hollywood: Stay open throughout the weekend. You can always take a break on Monday, as Le Pastis does.
Le Pastis, 1824 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-927-0002. Dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 5 till 10 p.m.
Onion soup gratinee
Rack of lamb