Excuses, Excuses: French Louie

04/23/2014 4:00 AM |

French Louie
320 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill

The swagger is hard to deny. This place radiates confidence from the moment you step into its front-room, a bar impeccably dressed in shiny white subway tiles, elegant glass shelving, gleaming brass fixtures and curvy, high-backed ebony stools. Once you catch an affable grin from the owner, Buttermilk Channel’s Doug Crowell, as he hobnobs with his sophisticated guests, it’s hard to find much fault in his latest venture. Though it just opened, it already feels like a 50-seat dinner party. In fact, the moment you feel the stirrings of the smallest complaint, you may find yourself making up an excuse on behalf of the place. Like, my friend couldn’t get the bartender’s attention, no matter how loudly she shouted over the bar, to compliment him on the French 75, a spin on the classic using fruity cognac instead of floral gin. But who am I to whine about the high-volume clamor of the restaurant when everyone there seemed so happy? Maybe my pal just wasn’t yelling loud enough. Maybe the bartender was hearing impaired.

Motown pumped over that buzz of conversation, and “Let’s Get It On” came on just as I bit into my first gougère. I could quibble that the dry puff of bread lacked the lushness of the vocals on the stereo, but that wouldn’t be fair. Nothing tastes as good as Marvin Gaye sounds, though Buttermilk Channel’s warm honey-buttered popovers do come close. I could rave about the pork and rabbit rillettes—rich, gamey meat balanced by the acidity of cornichons and the sweet spiciness of huckleberry mustard—yet gripe about the rock-hard texture of the thin baguette upon which it was spread. But then, I could also blame my overbite and poor table manners for turning each gnawing bite into an explosive-yet-delicious mess.

And I’d hate to say that our gracious, silver-haired server steered us wrong when he recommended the pan-fried skate with dirty rice and spicy crab bisque because, while the dish was a bit dry and not at all spicy, it certainly wasn’t terrible. The roasted carrot and citrus salad wasn’t memorable, but we cleaned the plate. The buckwheat pappardelle with meltingly rich oxtail ragout and broccoli rabe made for a heart-warming, rib-sticking pasta dish. The refined dessert billed as chocolate mousse was actually a little square of almond cake with whipped cream and just a touch of mousse, highlighted by a salty-sweet crunch of almond brittle. Priced at $10, it cost a dollar more than Buttermilk’s pecan pie sundae but was only about half as crave-worthy. I went well over my $100 budget here, but I think I ordered wrong. Perhaps I should’ve gotten the escargot with bacon, mushrooms and grits, smoked sardines, the steak frites and the profiteroles with fennel pollen ice cream. It’s not you, French Louie. It’s me.