241 Smith St, Cobble Hill
4 out of 5 L's
I used to hate when people would blabber about how every bite of food is better in Paris. “The bread tastes better, the cheese is amazing, you won’t believe the macarons,” they would rave, with a cloyingly sentimental look in their eyes. I was skeptical. Perhaps the food just seemed better amid the beautiful architecture and well-dressed natives—the way barbecue potato chips taste better during a particularly riveting, Ice T-focused episode of Law & Order: SVU. Paris-shmaris, I thought. And then, there I was on a Parisian street corner, taking my first bite of grassy Epoisses spread over Polaine bread, and I realized that those fools were right. The French make everything taste better. It’s a little annoying, isn’t it?
Still, I had my doubts about Jolie Cantina, a French bistro on Smith Street that dishes out Mexican food. The dubious premise, as described on the restaurant’s website, is that its chefs—Benjamin Tretout of France and Eliseo Gonzaga of Puebla, Mexico—merge “the best of French technique with the heart of Mexican food.” They serve cassoulet ($10) and guacamole ($12), too. During my visit, the taco-of-the-day involved braised oxtail (utilizing the conventional French preparation for the rich stew meat) with huitlacoche. You know what’s also annoying? The fact that anything pronounced with a French accent sounds infinitely sexier, even when you’re talking about a fungus that grows on ears of corn. I made our server repeat the word “huitlacoche” enough times that I had no choice but to order it. Spiked with peppery julienned radish, those French tacos, though perhaps not as authentic as something you’d find in Sunset Park, beat most of the neighborhood Mexican joints.
And Jolie Cantina’s efforts to beat other countries’ cuisines at their own game don’t stop there. Their French raviole ($13)—a deep and dreamy bowl of adorably teeny-tiny ravioli with Emmental gratin, truffle oil and beurre blanc sauce—takes on Italian stuffed pasta and all-American mac ‘n’ cheese and manages to best them both. Just the memory of the dish’s aroma, its browned top, its absurd creaminess, makes the stomach growl for more. The king crab chilaquiles ($18) were soupier than expected, but the freshly fried tortilla chips and big chunks of fresh crab drenched in honey-tomatillo salsa (and punched up with spicy chipotle sauce) left little to complain about. The classic French escargots ($12) got some unexpected depth from Mexican flavors like star anise, cumin and lime juice. As improbable as it seems, Jolie Cantina is well worth a visit. And though we’re slightly embarrassed to admit it, Frenchican might be our new favorite cuisine.