May 15, 2009
Ooh la la! It's a fine reunion for A La Provence
By Ashby Stiff
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT
Exuberance danced on the air at A La Provence.
Last week's soft opening of the new French restaurant occasioned a joyous reunion of old patrons and staffers of the departed Albert's Provence — an affectionate coming together of those who provide and those who support fine dining.
It marked the return of a restaurant of comfortable luxury and quiet beauty — a reprise of dining with the gracious amuse-bouche, the Riedel wine glass, the generously large linen dinner napkin. It breathed the refinement of grownup waiters in black and white, men who know not only the contents and preparation of every menu item, but how and when to place it and the perfect wine to accompany it.
At work in the kitchen, chefs and cooks simmered their stocks from odd cuts, bones and shells, and hand-crafted their pastas and heavenly herb-crusted focaccia from the first scoop of flour.
A La Provence is the successor to Albert's Provence, long the atelier of the iconic Chef Albert Ughetto. For years, Albert's was a premier regional dining destination and a perennial recipient of critical bouquets. To the distress of many, the business closed three years ago when the maestro retired.
New owner William Bertoncin, once both manager and maitre d' of Albert's, is determined to recapture and advance the restaurant's status and reputation. When word of his ownership got out, old staffers, charged with enthusiasm, flocked back to help.
Chef Scott Dantzler, a five-year veteran of the Albert's Provence kitchen, heads the new brigade. Familiar server faces, including those of Luis Blas and Bob Schelhorn, have reappeared in the dining room. Lee Nettles presides at the bar again.
Dinner presently is their charge, but lunch service will commence on June 3.
We've never seen the restaurant look better. Softly sconce-lit ivory walls are hung with gilt-framed classic European art. A one-time wine cellar in a focal point stone wall now is the mirrored cove for a grand flower arrangement.
Only three days old on our review visits, the menu was a work in progress. Already, however, ample selections provided feasts for the eyes and palate, and the wine cellar groaned with possibilities.
We never miss an offering of foie gras, and house-made Mousse of Foie Gras provided a marvelous starter. The rich slice of classic, goose-liver pate came with Melba toast, a shallot confit, sliced radish and cornichons. Another grand beginning starred a satin-smooth, deliciously comforting Sweet Corn, Crab and Shiitake Veloute.
Rock Shrimp Chantilly, Frog Legs Provencale, Escargots in Pernod garlic butter and brie were further introductions to the world of A La Provence cooking.
We sampled monkfish medallions with their lobster-like texture and flavor. We reveled in crab-and-crawfish-stuffed Grouper Provencale, picturesquely presented with artichoke hearts, asparagus, tomatoes and zucchini.
We eyed Dover Sole a la Meuniere and Foie Gras Butter Stuffed Cornish Hen. We ate tender, flavor-bursting Harris Ranch Filet Mignon with perfect tarragon-touched Bearnaise, and we savored gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce and the creatively presented pink chops of Colorado Rack of Lamb.
At meals' end, we delighted in Mousse au Chocolat, in tiny, berry-topped profiteroles and Caramel Praline Souffle with Milk Chocolate Ganache.
We left A La Provence warmed by the reunion with old friends, and cheered by the fact that a true exemplar of fine dining had returned to Tallahassee.
Additional FactsA LA PROVENCE
Rating: 5 hats
Address: Market Square, 1415 Timberlane Road; 329-6870
Payment: Major credit cards and local checks
Average tab: $40, dinner and a glass of wine
Dress code: Casual to dressy
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Beverage service: Full