I'm sure that New York City's French restaurants received no added business due to the recently concluded Republican National Convention. And I'm sure our local GOP delegation won't flock back to our local Gallic grubberies any time soon either, lest they anger the Rove cabal. So when you visit the following French restaurants, shake every customer's hand—they, like you, are true patriots and smart diners.
DINNER FOR TWO:
¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10! $ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20 $$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40 $$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!
A combination of an airy and funky restaurant and a women's boutique where hippie chic meets platinum card, the sweet little restaurant is perfect for l'amour. The food is billed as French/California hybrid, but that is selling it short. The egg creations are visual treats as well as the Anastasia green salad that is so attractive you might forget its nutritional benefits. 470 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8903. $$
Tim and Liza Goodell opened Aubergine in 1995, and it has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best French restaurants in the country. The Goodells scrimp on nothing—and you shouldn't either. 508 29th St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-4150. $$$
BISTRO LE CRILLON
A quaint, Provençal-themed restaurant named after the village in Provence from which chef Chantal Berton's family hails. The cassoulet c'est magnifique, a hearty mixture of flageolets blancs (white French beans), confit of duck and three types of sausage. Simmered and baked for days on end, the result is a mildly tangy bouquet of flavors. 2523 Eastbluff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-8181; www.bistrolecrillon.com. $$$
The Orange institution looks, smells, tastes and sounds like the French eateries your grandparents frequented, the type of elegant dining experience that once required pearls, a dining jacket and an irony-free martini. All the French entrées Americans endlessly stereotype are here—duckling a l'orange, frog legs, pâté, escargot and the like. But La Brasserie also stays true to its rustic Alsatian roots by preparing nine different types of veal, each consisting of young cow slices cut into large portions, battered with egg and nearly floating over myriad tasty sauces. Don't expect an abalone special in the interest of nostalgia, though: a plate of the stuff sets gourmands back $89.95. 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161. $$$
CAFÉ CASSE CROÛTE
This modest diner is the only place in OC to find authentic specialties from the Great White North—the Québecois part, that is. Try the tourtière: a mixture of slow-cooked ground pork and beef seasoned with garlic, onions and cloves that has been turned into a lidded piecrust and baked. 656 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 774-8013. $
Both coffin dodger and whelp alike enjoy a sterling menu prepared by executive chef Yves Fournier, one in a long line of dazzling Chanteclair chefs that includes Pascal Olhats. Fournier maintains Chanteclair's multiyear tradition of Zagat listings with such items as his eponymous filet mignon, a dish that drips with enough blood to qualify as a Red Cross donation. Also lustrous is the steak Diane, a perfect compromise between no-frills meat fans and nuance-demanding foodies. 18912 MacArthur Blvd., Irvine, (949) 752-8001. $$$
There is something downright satanic about David Wilhelm's latest addition to his "Culinary Adventures" family of restaurants. It's in the had-to-sign-a-pact-with-Mephistopheles execution of his French fare: basil-fed escargot, three-way duck served in an orange-caramel dressing with Mandarin Napoleon cognac, and a dessert of profiteroles stuffed with espresso ice cream. If they serve these in Hell, just where do I sign, Mr. Wilhelm? 655 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6647. $$$
FRENCH 75 BISTRO AND CHAMPAGNE BAR
The most beautiful bar in Orange County—with prices to match. The resonant thunk of champagne corks popping will be the only competition for the jazz piano as you savor the basil-fed escargot and langoustines with Black Forest ham swimming in herb-garlic butter. 1464 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8444. $$$
Appetizers are memorable: a feuillette, puff pastry with shrimp in the middle, placed in an herb-butter sauce with shallots and parsley and a mousse of duck liver surrounded by minced aspic and sprinkled with cognac. But even better are the main courses—buttery Dover sole, New York steak bathed in a creamy beige sauce of brandy and peppercorns, and French onion soup. Salivating yet? 34471 Golden Lantern St., Dana Point, (949) 234-0063; www.gemmelsrestaurant.com. $$$
The French/Belgian restaurant is a San Juan Capistrano institution, used as proof by residents that their city offers more than Father Serra this and swallows that (although the restaurant's name is French for "the swallow"—guess one can't fly too far from the nest). The lapin à la liégeoise (rabbit) is perfect, tasting like a duskier, moister turkey, with a plum wine sauce lending a bittersweet taste and juicy plum skins mixed in. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$$
METRO EXPRESS FRENCH CAFÉ AND CRÊPERIE
In a behemoth, Pepto-pink strip mall in Irvine, the nonpareil crêpes served at Metro Express French Café and Crêperie are more delicate than the lining of a cloud hovering over the Provence countryside. My picks: the No. 2 wrapped around scrambled eggs, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese for breakfast; it's served with fruit and the Nutella-filled Van Gogh for dessert. 13246 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 544-0546; Fashion Island Atrium Court, Newport Beach, (949) 721-2000. $
The eatery's appellation derives from the famous Cours Mirabeau, a tree-lined avenue of bistros in Aix-en-Provence dear to the restaurant's proprietors. And the food offered here—lamb osso bucco with a North African bent, fine wines, and an addicting pork-and-duck confit—is just as renowned. As the French Revolution-era orator Mirabeau might have shouted, c'est magnifique! 17 Monarch Bay Plaza, Dana Point, (949) 234-1679. $$$
Despite its location—in a storefront across from Newport Beach City Hall—Pescadou manages to impart a south-of-France feel with vibrant colors and eclectic table settings. You'll find traditional French dishes—frog legs and coq au vin—as well as such bistro fare as rib-eye steak, bouillabaisse and a variety of fish dishes. 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-6990. $$
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
This charming boutique French restaurant has a terrific appetizer—a sautéed foie gras served on a bed of spinach with a sherry vinegar sauce. Forget your misgivings about eating goose liver; this is a culinary le petit mort. Your server will suggest a glass of sweet sauvignon blanc to accompany the foie gras, and even though this will bring your tab to more than $20 (and you still haven't ordered an entrée), you'll do it gladly. 610 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5051. $$$
Their salmon is moist and delicious, served on a bed of spinach and a catamaran of potatoes. For dessert, the megeve is like a chocolate snowball covered with bittersweet chocolate mousse, pralines and meringue. It screams, "EAT ME!" 3333 Bristol St., Ste. 3001, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-6865. $$