A French Twist
means lighthearted madness. "Gossamer" is a lingering description
of Les Folies Brasserie on Riva Road in Parole. The restaurant's
Tuscan architecture (from previous owners) has evolved into a
more Parisian likeness, particularly with the addition of an outside
Co-owner Alain Matrat, a warm and genial host speaking perfect
English with a reassuring French accent, greeted us upon our Sunday
evening arrival. He and Chef Jean-Claude Galan, also co-owner,
are French born and professionally trained. They have had vast
experience in highly regarded U.S. restaurants, including the
Jockey Club and Jean-Louis in Washington, D.C.
First impressions were truly Parisian---a brass bar with limited
seats available for diners awaiting their tables or for those
who choose to eat at the bar. Les Folies is a fine dining establishment
with embracing stucco walls in flesh tones, high black ceilings,
deep wall-to-wall carpet absorbing noise, aided by tables draped
in rose linen laden with immaculate white linen overcloths. Banquettes
and romantic corners are available for those so inclined. Exuberant
arrangements of fresh flowers graced the corners of the main dining
room and led the eye to colorful paintings by French artist Alphonse
Mucha, admired for his Art Deco works. Edith Piaf was singing
in the background.
Alors! The piece de resistance was the French-crafted room divider,
etched and beveled glass segmented by brass street lights with
a bright mahogany varnished wood cap. The bread is home baked,
crunchy and tempting enough even for carbo-deprived dieters to
throw caution to the wind. With a quick salute to moderation,
the breads, both country and olive, were sampled and celebrated.
Three menus caught our attention: the daily specials, the full
bill of fare and the unique seafood array.
Our choice for appetizers (from the full menu) included les moules
Provencale, baked mussels from Prince Edward Island (rope mussels
that never touch mud) with garlic butter and bread crumbs. Although
infatuated with escargot, we found the mussels superior because
of their uniform size and softer texture. They were enveloped
by the irresistible garlic butter, shallots and parsley. Our other
selection (from the daily specials) was la soupe avocat aux crabe,
avocado soup with crab, a pure essence of avocado with lumps of
backfin. Comment from my ally in food: "lush velvet avocado soup
with great lumps of fresh crab---the best I've ever tasted."
Entrées were difficult to select because of the varied and provocative
menu choices. I chose three sautéed soft-shell crabs with a delicate
whisper of puréed anchovy and tomato in the sauce. The crabs were
sweet, mini-sized and supplied by specialists on the Eastern Shore.
Our other selection was sweetbreads bathed in a smooth sauce of
truffles and white wine. "Sweetbread" is a euphemism for the food,
in this instance, the thymus gland of a calf. The meat had been
braised then sliced, sautéed and napped with a black truffle sauce,
resulting in a silky dish. Accompanying vegetables were flavorful,
crusted tomato rounds, crisp snow peas and smooth mashed potatoes.
Our shared dessert was the blueberry tart, a sugar-crusted pastry
with vanilla cream, blueberries and raspberry sauce topped with
a mint leaf, altogether an explosion of wondrous tastes.
Throughout our meal we were entertained by the cheery face of
Chef Jean-Claude who often stands behind the glass seafood display,
as in Paris. Later he shared a peek at his brick ovens for baking
his signature bread, the ice-making machine which is one of his
devices for keeping raw fish cold, and the pristine kitchen with
immaculately white-uniform-clad staff.
With the shellfish season beginning in October, the full complement
of les coquillages (shellfish) is available. From that menu, a
diner could easily make a small or a large meal from the groupings
gathered from East Coast, West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
The plateau de fruits de mer/petite Folie for two includes a seafood
tray of oysters: Chincoteague, Malpeque and Belon, Little Neck
clams, cherrystone clams, Kumamoto, Taylor Bay scallops with a
second tier of langoustines, Prince Edward Island mussels, stone
crab claws, jumbo shrimp, periwinkles and sea urchins. The plateau
de fruits de mer/grande Folie for four includes double the above
and whole cold lobster with Russian salad.
The restaurant seats 96 patrons with additional accommodations
on the new outdoor patio. The back room, slightly divided from
the brasserie, accommodates 25 for private gatherings.
Once a month Les Folies offers a jazz night. Sunday, Oct. 25,
features Mickey Light with Sounds of Sinatra; Nov. 23, brings
Shawn Whilhite and Sean Lane, jazz with song.
Do make reservations---this is a popular spot. Proprietors Alain
Matrat and Chef Jean-Claude Galan have created exquisite cuisine
in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. They applaud the people of Annapolis
who love superb food served in joyous surroundings. Bon appetit.
Barry, a Pisces who resides on Mill Creek, has been a water
and food buff for three decades.