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Patou Bistro on Bastille Day (Tuesday, July 17, 2007)

Saturday was Bastille Day, and as always, I decided to celebrate with a good French meal. After a bit of research, I settled on Patou Bistro, a nice — but not stuffy — French restaurant in Dilworth, one of the fancier neighborhoods in Charlotte. Apparently the restaurant, which has been around for over a decade, was recently acquired by a French Moroccan, but if that made the restaurant any less French, it was hard to tell. I arrived a few minutes after 5:00, hoping to beat what was sure to be a mad rush for dinner on Bastille Day, only to find that despite an opening time of 4:30 listed on the web site, they in fact did not open until 5:00. As it was a few minutes after, that shouldn't have been a problem, nevertheless, the hostess was rather surprised by the time, and eventually decided to let me go inside. I only had to wait in the empty restaurant for five or ten minutes to be seated, and a waiter was with me immediately.

I quickly received a basket of bread, which I unabashedly consumed in its entirety in about thirty seconds. Without having tasted a single thing on the menu, I could tell that this was a restaurant that would see me return. The bread was simply amazing. With a tremendous act of self control, I decided to order food from the menu, instead of simply grazing from the second bread basket. I began with the Escargot Champagne — a delicacy that I cannot skip, if I see it on a menu. The escargot was unlike any I'd ever had before. Normally, when you order escargot, you get a small dish with six little cups in it, in each of which is a snail, with the whole dish filled nearly to overflowing with a garlic butter sauce. The ordinary preparation is almost always outstanding, and a sufficient appetizer for a snail-obsessed diner like me. The Escargot Champagne at Patou Bistro leaves them all to shame. No fewer than a dozen enormous snails were spread out on and around a large pastry of some sort, in the center of a full-sized dinner plate, and covered with a hazelnut chartreuse butter. This is an appetizer to please a full table of diners. Alone, I was hard pressed to finish it, though I don't believe I could have lived with myself for leaving even a morsel behind.

Having eaten snails-for-three and a basket and a half of bread, I was a bit apprehensive when I realized that my entree would soon arrive. I had ordered the Braised Rabbit, which the menu describes as a braised half rabbit, served with mashed potatoes and braised cabbage. Having eaten in many French restaurants, I was confident that I would have no trouble finishing the two ounces of meat that I was likely to receive. But I had never before eaten at Patou Bistro. If indeed it was a half rabbit that arrived, I would hate to have met the rabbit in life, because the whole rabbit would have been nearly the size of a Peugeot. The rabbit, which was so tender it fell off the bone at the slightest touch, and melted in my mouth, was cooked in a mild creamy mustard sauce with bacon and tarragon. The rabbit itself was set atop a mound of mashed potatoes, and between them a thin layer of cabbage. I do not generally care for cabbage, so I was not disappointed at the comparatively small amount of cabbage when it arrived. However upon tasting it, I would not have complained had there had been a bit more. At least not until after nearly an hour of steady eating, I found the rabbit, cabbage, and potatoes only half consumed. Next time, I will exert a supreme act of will, and not eat an entire basket of bread before the entree arrives, and perhaps I will have a dining companion with whom to share the escargot.

I do have to note that the service became progressively slower as my meal progressed, despite the surprising absence of any other diners. I was also disappointed that they were out of sorbet, the only dessert on the menu that I could have managed, after the feast I had enjoyed. But the staff was friendly and the food outstanding, and I would not let those other few trifles prevent me from returning — with a larger appetite, and more company — to one of the best French restaurants at which I have had the pleasure of dining.

—Brian (7/17/2007 5:54 PM)
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