Restaurants can get themselves off my verboten list, and TASTE OF FRANCE in Huntington Beach is the latest example. I gave this bistro a couple of chances years ago while biding my time before appearances on KOCE’s Inside OC With Rick Reiff (their studios sit across the street). Bad experience: indifferent service, bland crepe, hard croissant, flavorless onion soup. Whenever Reiff would ask me back and I wanted a quick bite beforehand, I’d instead choose Fuji’s Burgers down Gothard Street or Tacos El Chavito (home to the 50-cent taco and free pineapple juice) a couple of minutes away.
Reiff invited me to appear on his program (it airs live-on-tape Sundays at 11:30 a.m., repeating Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings) a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to revisit Taste of France. Everything has improved immensely. A nice French guy and gal greeted me with smiles and accents. The wait time was reasonable. And the food! It’s a small menu, and there’s still no reason to order the non-French sandwiches, but here is where you can find elegant Gallic meals at taquería prices. On this day, I chose a daily special: the mustard chicken (available only on Fridays). For $7.50, the waitress handed me a plate of boneless-chicken chunks smothered in a perfectly bitter mustard sauce, one you’ll want to ask for an extra ramekin of to dunk the homemade bread—I don’t even know if they would comply, but they should. A simple house salad with yummy dressing also decorated the plate, along with the misnamed pasta salad—this isn’t some disgusting mayo-spiked concoction, but a bona-fide pasta dish, a bit creamy and wonderfully al dente. The hen delighted my palate so much I returned the following Thursday to try the tomato-wine chicken—even more nuanced and complex. And I haven’t even had the chicken Florentine or their rotisserie chicken yet.
Taste of France’s crepes can now stand with their competitors’. I remembered stale, soggy, edible Kleenexes; I recently enjoyed thick, creamy delights, also coming with the sides I enjoyed so much with the chicken dishes. The onion soup now rings with the complementary tastes of Gruyere and onions that had nearly caramelized into a bracing broth. The quiches taste fine, although quiche is the Chicago Cubs of cooking to me—laden with potential, but just never reaching the top. And I’ve sent my minions on almost-daily runs to bring back their juicy apple tarts, buttery croissants and much-touted Napoleon, which has as many delicious layers as an episode of Lost.
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Taste of France, 7304 Center Dr., Huntington Beach, (714) 895-5305.