RESTAURANT REVIEW: La Fourchette 

Get schooled in authentic peasant food

La Fourchette
French
Entrees $15-20
Dinner only; closed Sundays
432 King Street
Downtown
722-6261

Finally, somebody found the right space for the right restaurant at the right time, and then sealed the deal by running it right. I'm talking about La Fourchette. Taking over the room formerly occupied by King Fish on Upper King Street, La Fourchette has remodeled to fit the concept, and the concept is indeed worthy. And, no, it has nothing to do with anatomy or piercing, at least not that I could tell.

It's not a big place. Maybe 40 chairs, counting the bar. It's dimly lit, looking every bit the French bistro that the menu promises. Service is professional without forgetting that it's supposed to be a bit informal, which is to say that service is pleasantly personal. The menu challenges one to make difficult decisions. The wine list makes it more difficult still. Candlelight flickers off raw brick and white linen, while distressed mirrors reflect the pantheon of wines behind the bar. Let's eat.

But first, let's drink. There's a good chance that you'll find Kevin Kelley in the house. He's been in the business for years, at Market East Bistro, then Il Cortile del Re, and most recently, Vintage. Now that he's formed a wine company, he stays busy in the restaurant business by consulting at Fourchette. The wine list shows it. It's all French, ranging from obscure to, well, less obscure, but you can rest assured if you don't know what you want, he does. I told him I wanted a Pinot Noir of his choice. He first selected a wonderful Beaune, and, when I asked for a bit more body, followed it up with a 1998 St Emillon that I liked even more. You could do worse than simply leaving wine selections up to Mr. Kelley.

We ordered three appetizers for our party of two. Excessive, I know, but we relented a bit on the second course, and the siren call of the duck-fat-fried pommes frites ($5.50) was simply too strong. Fried very crisp, served with a generous side of excellent house-made mayonnaise, we laid waste to a portion more appropriate for a foursome. The small plate of dried sausage ($3.50) was equally, albeit differently, great — simple thin slices of hard, pepperoni-like sausage, with a tiny crock of dijon and a few baguette croutons alongside. The mostly-Bibb house salad ($5.50) was delightful as well, thoughtfully dressed in a delightful vinaigrette, beautifully presented, and fought over on the table. Bravo.

The cassoulet ($21), as perhaps it should be, is a centerpiece on the menu. While the price might seem a bit steep for the classic peasant dish, the presentation forgives all. Your Le Creuset mini-casserole dish will arrive on its own small trivet, your server will remove the top, and you will think of little more than spooning it out, the melange of al dente white beans, chunks of lamb and sausage, and fabulous duck confit steaming beckoningly. Be sure to have a slice of the bread-basket baguette handy to catch the juices on your plate.

While we shared the cassoulet, the house-made duck pâté ($8.75) was not forgotten. The rich pâté was a tad chunkier than mousse, light and delicate in flavor, and presented as it should be — mustard, cornichons, a few marinated pearl onions, toasted baguette. Delightful, if a bit overshadowed by that fantastic cassoulet.

Dessert found us able to handle little more than a coffee and a shared plate of profiteroles ($5.50) — the petite creme puffs, stuffed with ice cream and smothered in a rich chocolate sauce at the table, were scrumptious. Coffee comes in — what else? — a French press, and shows the same forethought as did everything that preceded it. Rich, delicious, and utterly appropriate for the occasion. The cream hit my coffee, and I thought, "My, my — heavy cream for the coffee?" which was just over-the-top enough to finish our meal.

We engaged in our usual post-meal "guess how much the check will be" game, and both came up with 'a bit less than $80,' admittedly a bit of a cop-out. We were both right, however, as the tab came to a quite reasonable $78. As the room filled up, we slipped out into the night, and my accomplice looked over at me: "I can't wait to go back," she sighed. I had to agree with her. I've just got to see how they're doing their Coquille Ste. Jaques.

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