Sunday, January 11, 2009

Café Normandie Naples Review

Café Normandie is The French Deli, renamed; it’s now serving dinner as well as lunch. Owner Benoit Legris changed the name last year. It really is a full, bisto sized restaurant, and now a great dinner bargain.

There’s often a lunch time waiting line. The Café was packed as we entered Friday at 7:30 pm, and perched at our tiny table along the wall, on slightly awkward stools, happy to have squeaked in. Waiter Jeremy warmly greeted us, and took our wine order, for an “ok” house pinot noir ($8), and a better sauvignon blanc (8). We took in the cheerful yellow walls, very low lighting, paintings of French scenes, and a local artist’s works for sale. A central display case highlights the desserts. The noise level is moderate to high. There’s not much room between tables, so suck it in. That’s the price of being in a popular bistro, Naples Style. The average age was perhaps 70, with a 30’s couple, and some octogenarians. That’s Naples style, too. We were seated, soon ordered at 7:30, and our appetizer came 50 minutes later, at 8:20. We were famished, and devoured the three Smoked Salmon Petit Fours ($4.50). The slightly soggy flake pastries have tender smoked salmon, spinach, melted Swiss cheese, and warm béchamel sauce on the side. Tender baby spinach leaves with chopped onion and tomato fill the rest of the plate. "This could be a lunch", my partner said. For $4.50, it’s a very good, and tasty deal. The neutral béchamel gives a nicely understated moisture and contrast to the rich mouth feel of the petit fours. For the same $4.50, there’s a ham, tomato and Swiss, or a beef, fresh mushroom and Brie petit four as well. Or have Escargot de Bourgogne, for $6, or Foie Gras slices with salad and toasts for $13. Complimentary fairly freshly baked, then sliced baguettes, and tiny plastic cups of butter are a nice touch. Unfortunately we (hungrily) ate too many slices during our wait for food.

"The Dance", Henri Matisse The Hermitage, on loan to
There are only 5 entrees at dinner, ranging from $15 to $18 each. That's no typo! Similar offerings would be $25-28 on Naples 5th Ave South, and perhaps $28-34 at pricey Cote d’Azur, without better quality than served here. That’s pricing, Café Normandie Style. After a 35+” wait, charismatic Jeremy arrived with our entrees, and apologized for the too long wait, saying they expected only 25, and had over 70 for dinner, running out of what we first ordered, the Sea Bass a la Normande (18). We enjoyed the Canard aux Pêches (18), a filling and tender half duck, with crispy skin. Accompanying are scalloped potatoes au gratin, and a ratatouille style, too highly spiced vegetable mix with carrots and zuchini, that, if eaten first, overwhelmed the delicate duck and its light peach sauce. Not a problem, just eat them after the duck.

The Shrimp and Sea Scallops au Gratin is another winner, with a good half dozen large diver scallops and as many small shrimps, perfectly cooked, within a béchamel -tomato sauce, topped with melted Swiss cheese, and toasted bread crumbs. Sides were tomato-basil rice and the (too spicy) mixed vegetables. A generous and very tasty portion for $16! This is French comfort food, not haute cuisine, so adjust your expectations, and be quite pleased at the price/quality/quantity. There’s also Roasted Chicken with creamy Dijon sauce (15), and Boeuf Bourgjugnon (16).

We filled up on bread, and had no room for desserts. I’d previously had the Tarte Tatin for lunch; this upside down apple and caramel delight is served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (5.50).
Several Portions of Tarte Tatin, Waiting to be Cut.
There’s also crème brûlée (5), hot crepes with choice of sugar, Nutella, or jam (5.50), and Danish (2.25).

The next night, Saturday, we drove along 5th Ave South at 7 pm, and saw plenty of empty tables at Vergina’s and Trilogy, with many people walking past. And yes, casual Café Normandie, and nearby, popular upscale casual Escargot 41, were both full. We’ll return to Café Normandie to try the other entrees. It's been a while since we had dinner and wine for under $60. I’m sure more waitstaff will be hired; the long waits should stop. Why did I mention the patrons ages? This is an affordable spot for “date night”, ideal for those, also in their 20’s-30’s, to enjoy. Bon Appétit.

3756 US 41, Tamiami Trail North, Naples (just south of Office Max, the former Rooms to Go’s original location), 261-0877.


Anonymous said...

Went to Cafe Normandie last month based mainly on your recommendation. There were six of us for a weekday dinner early, at 6, and the place was surprisingly busy -- full and only seating reservations by the time we left. Our server was very nice and friendly, eager to please, but he was working solo when we arrived and a bit overwhelmed. The place was more casual than I'd have thought from your review. My onion soup to start was thin and not hot enough. The housebaked bread, a baguette cut into small rounds, was delicious, warm crisp and tasty. I had the shrimp and scallop dish, and my shellfish were properly cooked, but there were only a few of them and the sauce, while tasty, was soupy. My mom's duck looked beautiful, but she said it was only good, not really great. The prices were reasonable and I wanted to like the place, but it fell short of expectations -- at a similar price point, I like Bonefish Grill much better.

Ivan Seligman said...

Hi Nosh,

Yikes, sorry to hear it was overall pehaps good, not very good.
My shrimp and scallop dish was full of scallops, yours was not, and my sauce thick, not soupy. Inconsistency is not good, and I'll talk with the owner, and see if he'll look into it. He still needs more servers.

I've never had less than a very good meal at a Bonefish. One local spot you'll (I hope!) like is new MiraMare, on Venetian Bay. I was there twice with friends (8 dishes) to see how they did before writing them up. It's independently owned. Grat view at night, very good food and ample portions. Tiramisu's one of the best, light!