If the maitre d' at the year-old Bouillabaisse in Fort Lauderdale looks familiar, that's because Rudy Tachen was captain at Boca Raton's La Vieille Maison before it closed in 2008.
Much of La Vieille Maison's menu, but none of its historic charm, can now be found at Bouillabaisse, the 40-seat French restaurant tucked into the front corner of Fritz and Franz Bierhaus on restaurant row on Commercial Boulevard. While the restaurant was eerily quiet on a recent Friday, Tachen says holiday preparations and parties are keeping people out of restaurants this month.
Despite the fact we had the restaurant to ourselves, each white tablecloth-covered table was set with a candle and a single white rose. Glassware sparkles. The faux tin ceiling feels just right. Owner Harald Neuweg — owner of Fritz and Franz here and in Coral Gables, as well as Satchmo Blues Club upstairs from Bouillabaisse — is a Swiss-trained chef who always wanted a small spot where fans of French cuisine could fulfill their cravings for escargot and beef Wellington.
Sliding doors separate Bouillabaisse from Fritz and Franz, but the dirndl-wearing waitresses are nowhere to be seen in the serene space that is Bouillabaisse. Instead, we were served by an exceedingly polite, vest-wearing waiter.
Dinner begins with a basket of warm rolls and cool butter. Chef Francis Freund's menu starts with classic French onion soup ($8), a steaming crock of cheese-topped broth and caramelized onions. Escargots ($10) are served in just the right amount of garlic butter, herbs, lemon, white wine and tomato. That basket of fresh bread comes in handy for dipping. Lobster bisque ($10) and creamy white, truffle-flavored potato soup ($9) round out the traditional high-calorie appetizer offerings. I suggest saving your fat intake for the entree and ordering the Bellevue salad ($10), a fresh combination of hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, red onion, Parmesan and light tomato vinaigrette.
The signature bouillabaisse ($29) comes with shrimp, mussels, Maine lobster and a different fresh fish. I opted for veal Francaise ($27), four lightly breaded veal scallopini with buttery lemon sauce. Steak Diane ($29) is a generously portioned dish of two tender sirloin steaks in mustard cognac sauce. Rack of lamb ($39) is covered with Pommery mustard and herb crumbs before being roasted and plated with Cabernet demi-glace. Each dish was plated with baby carrots and nutmeg-scented potatoes dauphinoise.
No surprise, but Bouillabaisse makes a wonderful chocolate souffle ($11) that's eggy and rich. Chocolate mousse ($9) is served in an oversize martini glass and topped with Cointreau-flavored foam. The only disappointing dessert was apricot-flavored chocolate cake ($10) with a duo of sauces, citrus and strawberry. We couldn't taste the apricot.
What you do taste at Bouillabaisse is a respect for French cuisine and the kind of top-drawer courteousness that was once expected in all restaurants.
What a pleasure to see none of it has gone away.
— John Tanasychuk
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.
2881 E. Commercial Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free spots and meters out front