With very limited exceptions (Saint-Emilion in Fort Worth and Cacharel in Arlington), Tarrant County is no hotbed of cuisine francaise. And while Le Cep isn’t going to change that –– it’s only one restaurant –– the brainchild of the husband-and-wife team of David and Sandra Avila is as culturally powerful as at least 20 barbecue joints.
Chef Sandra, who trained in France, keeps it simple: an eight-course “discovery” menu, a four-course tasting menu (two choices per course), and, for additional charges, a cheese course and wine pairings. The menus change monthly, though if you go before the end of January, you may get December’s menu. “We’ve just been getting so many compliments on the food,” said a server on a recent visit.
And, indeed, on this particular visit, everything sampled was delicious and meticulously presented.
The unadvertised starter was a dainty pastry cone filled with truffle-flavored foie gras. The heavy, velvety liver was balanced nicely by the crunch, making for a delightful amuse-bouche.
The first course was a choice of soup or salad. The soup was a silky, cream-based butternut squash suffused with ginger — a lovely combination of spicy, savory, and sweet. The salad, a plate of al dente cauliflower, blue cheese, and microgreens atop pureed beets (accompanied by crumbly mini-baguettes), was scrumptious. Even for a non-beet fan, the slightly sweet root veggie paired well with the crunchy cauliflower and the pungency of the cheese.
Fish and venison were the options for the second course. A lightly grilled golf ball-sized helping of red snapper (instead of the arctic char listed on the menu) floated in a light, orange-flavored sauce with a bit of carrot puree on top. The dish was so fresh that a lot of fancy seasoning wasn’t necessary.
The venison tartare –– raw deer meat minced with shallots and other spices and served with the yolk of a quail egg –– didn’t sound appetizing but made sense after a server said to fold the egg into the mix. The end result was indescribably tasty.
The entrées were exceptional, starting with the duck breast in a pomegranate reduction, augmented by dabs of edamame puree. The fowl was succulent and rich, and it was nicely complemented by the sweet-tart sauce. The sauce for the rare, fork-tender beef tenderloin, served with buttery mashed potatoes and fried shallots and kissed by some tarragon, tasted pleasantly spicy and was a welcome contrast to traditional salt-heavy grill seasoning.
After the entrées, Le Cep fromagier Michael Robert brought out the cheese cart –– and it ended up being well worth the indulgence. From a dozen options, three were chosen: a sweet gruyere, a goat’s milk, and the époisses de Bourgogne, a brie-like delicacy with an orange rind courtesy of brandy baths. Hazelnut biscotti crackers and fig-and-cherry preserves accompanied the plate. The taste of the cheese could be manipulated by the jam –– the very funky, pungent époisses was tamed by the flavor of the fig, while the almost-sour goat cheese tangoed with the cherry. The gruyere was perfect by itself.
Dessert provided the only negative, albeit a minor one. The three-bite scoop of black raspberry from Plano-based Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream was simply not fabulous on its bed of brandy-soaked sugar-cookie crumbles. Fortunately, the other choice was the Mont Blanc, a chestnut-flavored meringue with whipped cream and chocolate pearls, the light crunch of the meringue balancing the sweet, heavy cream.
At Le Cep, the staff members plainly love what they do. All substitution requests are politely declined, and while the ingredients are listed on the menu, the preparations are secret until the plate is presented. Diners with special food needs or preferences or people who value quantity over quality should go elsewhere. But there’s something pleasant about the arrival of dishes that are complete surprises, and Le Cep excels at surprises –– from the amuse-bouche to the parting gift of a duo of madeleine cookies on the way out.
3324 W 7th Av, FW. 817-900-2468.
Tue-Sat 5:30-10:30 pm.
All major credit cards accepted.
Eight-course discovery menu…………. $85
Four-course tasting menu………………. $45
Cheese course……………………………… $15