Chez Francois
 Cleveland, Ohio (Vermillion)    Date of Visit  03/31/12 

Television has not been treating us well as of late. Places we visited based on the recommendation of talking heads on the idiot box only proved that taste is not universal or the heads are paid to like whatever they are told to like, regardless of how good it might actually be. Melt, Washington Place and Central were proof. Still, Chap’s Charcoal, Momocho and Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish have proven not all recommendations are questionable. So we head out for Steph’s birthday with hope in our hearts to Chez Francois, seen on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” for their Beef Wellington. Steph loves her some beef wellington. I hope she loves theirs.



You Gotta Drive All The Way To The Lake

If you remember the horrifically long stroll we took to Kiedrowski’s Bakery (thinking it was in Cleveland), Chez Francois is just a little bit farther down the road, but this time we knew it would take a hike to get there. The snoogles were worth it, I hope the beef is as well.

My first drive ever through Vermillion landed us at the lake. Seriously, at the end of the street the restaurant is on you can get out of your car, walk across ten feet of sand and you are standing in Lake Erie. The tail of the dining room hovers over an inlet channel cut inland for people with a lot of money and boats. The upper portion of the building is dedicated to Touché which is a less formal restaurant and wine bar. We walked down the short flight of steps and into olde world France-esqe. The building itself feels old and storied with smooth worn bricks, monolithic square beams and antiquated fixtures. We were seated in a little cubby, both with a view of the rest of the dining room. Our server told us it was the “God Father table, looking out on everyone else. The three walls surrounding us were shingled with wine cases from years long gone. Great atmosphere.

Seriously, Right On The Lake Between Cleveland and Sandusky

Show Plates Are Indicative of The Formal/Fun Mix Here

Steph Got A Wish Signed By Whole Staff

Our Booth Was Shingled With Wine Cases

Small Beautiful Gift From The Kitchen

Serious Baguette and Lightly Sweetened Herb Butter

The service is a rare and pleasant experience. Formal and friendly. Efficient and affable. Educated and down-to-earth. Don’t see that much. I would have to say the service was just shy of our experience at the golden bastion of service, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. From hostess, to coat kid, to waterboy, to matre d, to front and back waiters, all were damn good and downright personable. You don’t expect it. They are attired in the classic black tie, vest and long apron. They carry table crumbers and demitasse spoons. There is just no pretention. We chatted with them about the morning’s Easter egg hunt, birthdays, wine selections. The only thing they couldn’t manage that Charlie Trotter’s could was to seemingly disappear until you almost thought about needing something. Well trained, good spirited, and well done. Oh, about birthdays. They asked when we arrived and our table was set with a card for Steph. Seen it. It was signed by the entire staff, nice. They also painted a birthday wish on her dessert in chocolate and added a candle in addition to the verbal wishes from staff. The show plate sitting on the table sort of sums it all up. Serious. Chez Francois with a serious looking waiter. Not so serious. "That French Place in Vermillion." To give you an idea of detail, when we sat the show plate was adorned with white cloth napkins. When we sat they were quickly replaced with black cloth. I had never seen this before. Turns out the white ones were leaving white fuzz on people's dark dress pants. So you get a napkin to match your attire.

Alright, blah blah blah. Let’s get to the food fat man. We ordered Homard Bisque, en Croûte, Homard et Saint André en Croûte, Coquilles Saint Jacques à la Parisienne as appetizers. Entrees were Filet de Boeuf Wellington à la Périgourdine and Roasted Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast, Cherry Glace de Viande. It’s always a little fun to dust off my French from culinary school. I couldn’t say “Hi” but I can usually get around a menu. Before our orders arrived the kitchen sent out an amuse bouche; a hot shot of root vegetable soup topped with a goat cheese foam. If this was any indication we are in for some scrumptious. Earthy with notes of carrot, turnip, and a myriad of other veggies, loads of cream and a nice salty punch from the cheese foam. A nice thank you from the chef. It did exactly what it was meant to, enliven the palate and have us craving the next delivery.


Composed Salads

Accompanied By Your Choice of Montrachet Goat or Roquefort Cheeses

Puff Crowned Lobster Bisque Was Pretty Good

And Ridiculous With Lobster!

Odd But Delicious Pairing of Lobster, Saint Andre and Black Currant Sauce

Glorious, Rich, Classic. Coquilles St. Jacques

The lobster bisque arrived in a crock crowned with puff pastry. The amount and size of crustacean in this bowl was ridiculous. Instead of knuckles there were nearly complete claws breaching the surface of the broth each time the spoon was lifted. That said, I have had better. It was really good. Darker is the word Steph used and I would agree. It seemed like a lobster dish with a lot of good sauce rather than a homogenized concoction. I would order it again regardless. The other lobster dish was a new one for me so I had to try it. Lobster and Saint Andre cheese wrapped in puff pastry. Saint Andre is similar to Brie with more intensity in flavor and I wasn’t sure how the two would work together. Brilliantly was the answer. The flaky pastry, the cheese, the Maine sea bug, MMMmmmmm! What really made the dish though was the black currant sauce sitting underneath. The sweet and sharp berry cut through rich cheese, pastry and shellfish to make an exciting bite. So Good. I haven’t had or made Coquilles Saint Jacques since culinary school. I remembered liking the dish even though it violates one of the unwritten rules of our meals out. No scallops. Our bigger crew has come to the realization that nearly every scallop dish we have had could have been better prepared at home. We don’t order them anymore. This dish is at least a different preparation. Instead of being pan seared the scallops are set in a sea shell and cooked in a fish veloute with mushrooms, garlic, shallots, sherry and Reggiano cheese. The shell is bordered in duchess potatoes. Oh sweet Poseidon, this was good. Rich delicious potatoes rimmed buttery shellfish steeped in glorious mother sauce.

After our glut of appetizing seafood we were delivered two composed salad of mixed greens, beets and hard boiled egg held together by planks of cucumber and dressed with a light balsamic vinaigrette. You choose your cheese and we each got a little bowl of dairy, one Montrachet goat and one Roquefort. The salads had a nice mix of fresh bitter and sweet greens and pungent cheese (mine). The salads were joined by a baguette. This fearsomely crusty loaf was simply gorgeous and joined by a chive and honeyed sweet cream butter. What diet? Who cares? Right now it ain’t me.

Perfectly Done, Exceptional Quality Filet

Oh, The Duxelle, Foie and Truffle, Plus The Sauce. B. E. A. Utiful

The Duck and Sauce Were Unbelievable

The Only Thing That Didn't Move Me...But I Never Have Enjoyed Sweet Tater Anything

Steph’s Beef Wellington was a delicious riff on the classic. Perfectly juicy and tender filet is ensconced in puff pastry. The accoutrements are on the plate instead of inside the package to save the texture of the puff pastry. A lusciously smooth mushroom duxelle pools under the halved Wellington. Surfing atop the shroomy mix is a Hudson Valley foie gras and sliced black truffles. Culinary gold, both in expense and taste. Everything sits atop a sauce Perigueux which is a reduced demi-glace studded with black truffle. I am more of a steak dude than a Wellington aficionado but this is delicious. The veg du jour are baby carrots and turnips that maintain a healthy crunch and flavor. 

My duck, weirdly the only thing on the menu written in English was stupendous. The only thing I didn’t care for was the sweet potato mousseline cake. I don’t like sweet potatoes. Never have. Gave it a shot. With a healthy dose of hazelnut, if you like sweet potato you would likely enjoy this. Fortunately the duck breast was insane. I have to bet it was cooked sous vide and just dripped ducky goodness. Threads of fried onion, a dollop of goat cheese and a glorious Cherry Glace de Viande made the perfectly cooked bird sing. Glace de Viande is a chicken stock that is reduced to the point it resembles jello. So deeply, intensely chicken flavored with a punch of cherry…the Wellington didn’t have a chance by comparison.

Creme Moulee Au Caramel With A Birthday Wish

Feeling wonderful and woozy we still accepted the after dinner menus. They include desserts, cheese offerings, coffees. Digestives, etc. We stayed with the desserts. Steph had the Crème Moulée au Caramel which is an egg custard with a caramel sauce and seasonal berries. Really nicely done. I don’t usually care for crème caramels or renversee but this had a nice sweet balance.

I went with the Soufflé Au Citron. A cold lemon soufflé dome, sitting atop a round of and coated with a white génoise cake, and sauced with a tart lemon glace. Tart enough to cross your eyes with the first bite, it settled in perfectly with sour and sweet. Awesomely they offer a short pour of wines to enhance each dessert. The soufflé came with a house made limoncello, beautiful. Even better was the 2008 Pedro Ximenez Alvear, from Jerez Spain that accompanied the caramel custard. Smokey and complex, it coaxed new and fabulous flavors out of the dessert.

The Cross Your Eyes Lemony Soufflé

Desserts Were Perfectly Paired With Spirits

Welcome to magic just west of nowhere. Beautiful setting, incredible service, classically killer food, enormous wine list. I am so happy they offer seasonal menus. It will change soon. We just have to go back. We caught the eye of an older couple as they left. They asked how our meal was. We told them, incredible. They came from Wisconsin, said easily one of the best meals ever. They may not have travelled as far as we have collectively just for meals, but they are on the money. Yes they require men to wear a jacket here. Not a fan of the practice but I get it. Having eaten here I would wear a straight jacket for the summer menu. I'll even bet they have someone already on staff that is there just to feed me.




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