With their focus on seafood and traditional French cuisine (yes, frog legs and escargot!), Le Troquet can feel intimidating at first blush. Their baby blue corner on Third and Gold boasts a small, intimate space with cozy seating for about 20, so reservations are suggested if you want an immediate table. Otherwise, it's a fairly utilitarian space, keeping the decorative elements to a simple, predictable few while the focus falls squarely on le troquet itself—a truly gorgeous wooden bar with a worn red top and undeniable old-world charm. Sink down in a soft booth and crack the menu, and you'll likely be transported to the warm comforts of the French cuisine, the spare but precise wine list and that certain je ne sais quois—though it doesn't always come cheap.
Which isn't to say there aren't deals to be had, especially at lunch. These days you can easily drop 10 bucks on casual dining and even fast food—so spending just past that to treat yourself to high-end cuisine is really a no-brainer. The typical lunch crowd seemed to appreciate a slow, deliberate meal, so don't expect turnover of tables. Still, once you're sat, you're set—so call ahead. The free rolls they start you with are crusty, served warm, with a sliced pocket perfect for a pat of butter. Drinks of the non-alcoholic sort are typical of a true European bistro, though they do have canned soft drinks too. But if you can manage it, dip into their small wine list, even if just for a glass.
For lunch, their croque madame ($10.25), a bistro standard, mixes béchamel with an over-easy yolk for a silky gravy that offsets the crunch of the bread crust and the sublime brûlée-d Swiss cheese on the sandwich's edges. It will take a knife and fork, but it's a moist bite, with ham sliced thin and a pinch of fresh parsley to top it off. It comes with a soft-tossed side salad in a creamy dressing that shares an anchovy note you'd usually find in fresh Caesar dressing. The greens are a mix of butter lettuce and very mild spring greens including arugula, and the whole thing is topped with some pickled red onions. The poulet cordon bleu ($15) is a sturdy chicken breast pounded thin, wrapped around a center of ham and Swiss, then flash-fried to a crisp shell. It comes smothered in a white wine, butter, garlic and mushroom sauce that's worth the price of admission itself. Each bite has texture, luscious salt and deep cream throughout: a truly great plate. Haricot verts, some tri-color cooked carrots and a rice pilaf with stewed tomatoes and more thin, sauteed white mushrooms accompany it, and it's a portion that's generous enough to share.
Duck a l’Orange
Eric Williams Photography
Come dinner time, instead of a casual meal, I'd recommend surprising your certain someone with something of a slow and sumptuous dress-up affair. The vichyssoise ($6.25) was a cold, silky and creamy delight with the slightest tooth of cellulose from leeks and green onions that compliments the smooth potato purée—a perfect soup to follow a hot sun-setting stroll to the restaurant. The Duck a l'Orange ($26.50) was half a roasted duck, skin moist and chewy, with luscious scalloped potatoes, tri-color carrots, asparagus, a baked tomato and a Brussels sprout. The range sauce was clear and clean as a simple syrup. I wouldn't have minded a little pulp for texture. I took it with a glass of Perrin Côtes du Rhône Villages ($13/glass), an elevated but approachable wine and available to any typical wine buyer. It was deeper in fruit, which made it bright but easy while still sturdy enough to stand up to the duck, with enough glycerin for an effortless finish. The seared diver scallops Provençal ($31.95) offered six wild-caught scallops, thick and seared until perfectly flaky. Neither the herbs, garlic, or the butter overpowered the fresh, tender brine of the scallops. They were served with the same vegetables as above, trading only the potatoes for a rice pilaf that wanted for something earthy and crunchy—a chopped nut maybe—but that's nit-picking. The seafood called for a glass of Chateau La Freynelle Blanc ($12/glass), a white from Bordeaux with citrus and stone fruit notes, but that drinks much drier thanks to the limestone and minerals in the terroir.
As a special occasion, Le Troquet delivers, though at a cost. However, value-hounds can sniff out a first-rate meal that doesn't break the bank both at lunch or for a light supper. It's an approach that will surely win over new diners, because the only thing better than a moveable feast is one that leaves a few francs in your pocket.