Chow, Baby got a chance to bum around Europe while in its early 20s. Unfortunately, what could have been a life-affirming cultural awakening turned into a drunken romp through sticky hostels and dingy bars. I regret seeing Europe through the bottom of a rocks glass. I’ve been back a few times since, but I’ll likely never get to just pick up and go anywhere I want on any given day like that again.
The trip wasn’t a total loss — it broadened my culinary horizons, and I’ve become quite the culture vulture since then. Finding a little taste of Europe isn’t always easy in our town, of course. When I was growing up, if you wanted non-Italian European cuisine, there was The Old Swiss House … or a short road trip to Dallas. Now the local culinary landscape boasts much more variety, but it’s still pretty quiet on the Western (European) Front. The good thing is that the few places we do have are high quality: no Euro trash here.
On a recent visit, Saint Emilion Restaurant (3617 W. 7th St.) reminded me why it stands alone atop the hierarchy of Euro restaurants in Fort Worth. The authentic French fare is usually a treat that I can only afford on special occasions, but its prix fixe menu ($25 for three courses) proved to be Chow, Baby budget-friendly.
Walking into the tiny restaurant, tucked away in the Monticello neighborhood, just on the outskirts of the West 7th Street area, is like being transported to a French country bistro. The dining room is intimate, though not cramped, and dimly lit by candles. The kitchen is exposed, and the chefs in their white coats and hats are visible from everywhere in the dining room. The servers wear starched white aprons and exude professionalism. Our server that day was a picture of ghost-like unobtrusiveness but also available, knowledgeable, and prompt; bonus points for having a French accent.
The menu is classic French — there’s practically reduced wine in the water. Right off the bat, my guest and I blew the intended economy of the prix fixe menu by ordering an appetizer — the assiette de canard (the duck plate), a duck charcuterie featuring the bird’s meat in fois gras terrine, rillettes (cooked and shredded) and salami, served with smoked almonds and fig jam ($12.50). The terrine was so rich it was like cream cheese on heroin, topped with that equally decadent fig jam.
In French cooking, one can never get too much of a good thing, so the first course on the prix fixe menu was, of course, a classic duck paté — a little firmer and slightly more gamey to taste than the terrine, but still delicious. My entrée was the fall-off-the-bone tender coq au vin, slow-cooked to perfection and served on a bed of spaetzle and sautéed veggies, with a celery root remoulade. The white wine reduction was just thick enough to coat the chicken, but the taste was not overpowering.
The dessert served with the set menu was a light and refreshing strawberries Romanov, a classic dish with cream. But the real prize dessert at Saint Emilion, and quite possibly my absolute favorite dessert ever, is the île flottante, ($10), an airy island of meringue floating on crème anglaise, topped with caramel and almonds. Put this down as the dessert for my last meal, should I ever end up on death row — or even if I don’t.
The wine list at Saint Emilion is accessible in terms of price and variety. The mellow 2008 Ritual pinot noir, from Casablanca Valley in Chile ($45) featured soft tannins, tasted of cherry and plum, and drank like a wine that cost twice as much.
Unlike on my first tour de Europe, I can hold my booze now. I’ll never really be able to make up for my ugly Americanism those many years ago, but at least now I can enjoy a fantastic meal without ending the night wearing a lampshade — or as the French call it, a shame beret.
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