My dear Coquette,
I'll never forget the first time I saw you. Your luscious red awning beckoned to me across the crowded parking lot of a fashionable shopping center. "Tarte flambée," the words on your awning said alluringly. "Pâtisserie." Above the door, your very name hinted at flirtatious designs.
Alas, the dining room was full when I first called on you. You were an ingenue, barely on the scene for a season, yet you had already attracted a steady stream of suitors. I looked longingly at the café tables and lipstick red leather upholstery of your dining room, warmly lit by the globes of Parisian deco chandeliers.
With a sigh, I took a seat at your satin-smooth zinc bar and ordered a glass of burgundy from your exclusively French selection of a hundred wines. Only then did I notice that all six of your glistening taps dispense Belgian beers. But of course, I thought. What else would a self-respecting French brasserie serve?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
If I felt briefly spurned by your dining room, you quickly consoled me with steak tartare, presented as a molded cylinder of finely chopped tenderloin, its ruby flesh punctuated with capers, onion and parsley, and topped with a raw quail egg. I sampled your potato and Gruyère croquettes, and their golden-brown crusts willingly surrendered their creamy interior to my eager teeth.
Entrees that night revealed the versatility of your talented chef, Rob Bland, whose impressive résumé includes work with Michelin three-star chef Guy Savoy in France. Bland faithfully rendered the traditional peasant dish cassoulet with an earthy melange of duck confit, Toulouse sausage, braised pork and cannellini beans baked under a crust of bread crumbs crisped in duck fat. His deconstructed coq au vin -- bronze-skinned chicken quarter, Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, pearl onions and crunchy lardons, all artfully strewn over a plate glazed with red wine jus -- was more playful, while remaining true to the spirit of the original. By the time I wiped the buttery crumbs of a dainty apple frangipani tart from my lips, my dear Coquette, my heart belonged to you.
Our encounters since that magical night have been few and -- ah! -- too brief. But already I have a treasure trove of memories. Remember the brunch, when I swooned over the silky custard of your quiche Lorraine? The duck confit crêpes, a blissful marriage of unctuous meat and petal-thin pancake on a plate bejeweled with port-poached black currants and finely diced roasted butternut squash?
And who could forget the oysters on the half shell -- Malpeque and Beausoleil, both impeccable -- whose briny liquor I drank with abandon one night? Intoxicating as that liquor was, it hasn't prevented me from vividly recalling every detail of that evening, from the saffron perfume rising on the steam of mussels in moules frites to the delicately crisp skin and pristine flesh of pan-fried trout filets to the tart sweetness of cherries bubbling in the tender batter of cherry clafoutis.
The mussels were served in a heated cast-iron pan, which kept their white wine broth (which I greedily sopped with house-baked baguette) warm to the last drop. The cast iron pan is just one of many of those charming brasserie touches -- others include the pretty little paper-lined metal cups that contain your golden frites and the simple tea towels that serve as napkins -- that have endeared you to me as I've come to know you.
Your reasonable prices are in keeping with a brasserie, too, even though your distinguished pedigree includes sibling restaurants Vivace and Frazier's. And, though you have been open only since October, your waiters are as well-trained and attentive as I've come to expect from that family of restaurants.
There are still so many worlds that I want to explore with you, my dear Coquette, from the monkfish pot au feu that is your plat du jour on Monday to your braised pork belly on Sunday. In truth, I would be happy to see you any night of the week. But I must see you again soon. Until then I am,
Hungering for you,