POSTED ON AUGUST 29, 2012:
A Little Bit Country
French fast food
The arrival of La Madeleine Country French Café on Cherry Street thrilled those who enjoy the arrival of yet another restaurant chain. This Dallas-based restaurant has brought a touch of country French fast food to midtown. The concept of La Madeleine is simple: French country food fast.
Walking in one evening for le diner, I was somewhat surprised to observe a stark dining room that was plain and lacked a warm welcome. For months, as a passerby observing the construction unfolding, I watched with eager curiosity and anticipation of what the décor would be. The space is bright and airy, but there are few, if any, distinguishing features which draw the eye. Lots of fine wood outline the area, but little else.
Ordering is accomplished at a front counter, so I made my promenade up to the person who takes the orders. I was greeted with "Bonjour!" in an Oklahoma French country twang. Bonjour, comment allez-vous? I responded, and that quickly ended the throwing around of French phrases.
My order was fairly simple: I selected one of the Signature Crêpes, the Shrimp Crêpe Florentine ($10.99), a cup of French Onion Soup ($3.69) and a side of Rice Provencal ($1.69--with a meal, $2.99 otherwise). A few friends accompanied me for dinner. Other orders included the Quiche Lorraine ($5.59), Spinach Pochette ($5.99), both listed as French Specialties; a Savory Entrée, Chicken La Madeleine ($8.99), a French Specialty, Chicken Friand ($5.99), cups of Country Potato Soup ($3.69) and French Onion soup.
After ordering, we moved as a small herd to the condiment stations where customers get their own soft drinks, water, coffees, sliced bread, butter and jam, silverware and napkins. After gathering our supplies for dinner, we seated ourselves in one of the two dining rooms at La Madeleine. Soon, our dinners were brought to us.
We had a fine representation of the La Madeleine cuisine here at this one little table. My Shrimp Crêpe Florentine was just okay, nothing to get excited about. The presentation was attractive enough -- a large crêpe filled with shrimp, chopped tomatoes, garlic and spinach all in a pesto cream sauce then topped with a little more sauce, a few noticeable shrimp, chopped tomatoes and parsley. I found the taste did not equate to its looks. The pesto sauce was thin and fairly bland and screamed the need for at least a few granules of salt. Oh là là, I thought.
The French Onion soup was basic, nothing special. Three small slices of a French baguette with scant shavings of grated (not yet melted) cheese topped the broth. The broth was deep brown and the onions were soft and sweet; the lackluster taste was not memorable. Its temperature was lukewarm. The Rice Provencal had a rustic appearance, seemingly comprised of wild and brown grains, yet the flavor did not deliver.
The Quiche Lorraine and Spinach Pochette possibly were the best tasting dishes of this meal. The Lorraine was an individual little pie with a heavy crust (not a "delicate pastry shell" as stated on the menu). This classic combination of eggs, ham, bacon and Swiss was quite good, thin, but tasty indeed. A deeper pie with more filling to take on the heavy crust would make this a fine meal. The Spinach Pochette is a mixture of creamy spinach with Swiss in a puff pastry. This French Specialty was very good. The pastry was crispy and flaky; the filling was rich and creamy, with a fine flavor of the Swiss cheese.
A La Madeleine Signature Dish, Chicken La Madeleine, from the Savoury Entrées, is a tender breast of chicken with wild mushroom sauce served with Rice Provencal and steamed broccoli. The presentation lacked eye appeal: thick, beige gravy smothered the chicken pieces (not a full, uncut breast), a small mound of rice and a few broccoli flowerettes. The chicken was very nicely seasoned and tender, but the mushroom sauce was thick and pasty, and needed seasonings to bring out a flavor. The sliced mushrooms in the sauce were a redeeming quality of the sauce. The broccoli was fresh and nicely steamed and firm.
Finally, the Chicken Friand, a warm, flaky puff pastry with a chicken and mushroom filling and topped with the wild mushroom sauce was disappointing. The puff pastry was tough, almost as if it had been microwaved too long. Corners of the pasty were inedible. The filling, was okay, again on the bland side. The cup of Country Potato Soup was served below lukewarm in temperature. It was creamy with bits of potato throughout, but lacked a full, rich flavor.
We all shared a few sweets for dessert: a Mini Lemon Tart, Palmier, Almond Croissant and Chocolate Croissant. The Lemon Tart, one of my friends said, was like eating sweetened condensed milk: she detected little lemon flavor. The Palmier, a puff pastry fashioned in a palm or butterfly shape, was sweet and crispy, yet the dough was touch in spots. The two croissants were flat and doughy, lacking an authenticity of a classic French croissant: buttery, flaky, light, and airy.
I was hoping to speak with Justin Warren, the General Manager of La Madeleine, but missed connections with him, which did not allow an insider's approach to the concept here.
The menu is conscious of those counting calories. A calorie count is listed for most all of the main entrees and salads, and the Signature Crêpes and Pastas come in a "Slim" version for $1 or more less -- probably smaller portions for those counting calories. Opening at 6:30am, La Madeleine has a fine listing of breakfast items, such as Egg Crêpe Champignon, Breakfast Croissant, and Custom Omelettes. County French Breakfast and American Breakfast, for a more hearty meal, are also offered.
For what it attempts to do, La Madeleine succeeds with bringing country French fast food to Cherry Street albeit in some ways only in name.
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