You have to give someone credit for opening a French restaurant in these low-fat days of the 21st century. But L'etoile — "Star" in French — has been open for business since October in downtown Boca Raton, a city that seems to have more French restaurants than Miami.
Did Boca really need another French restaurant? Especially one that serves so few of the French dishes Americans find most familiar? Couldn't L'etoile at least serve onion soup?
Instead, the menu offers a gimmicky, winter-black-truffle-and-foie-gras soup ($22), originally created for chef Paul Bocuse when he received the French Legion of Honor in 1975. It's dramatically topped with puff pastry. Unfortunately, the broth was watery and so piping hot, it was difficult to taste much of anything.
A warm goat-cheese salad with bacon and honey ($18) was a much better meal starter, with a nice mix of baby greens and top-quality goat cheese served on slices of baguette. Snail cassolette with morels in white-wine sauce ($22) was also incredible, with the texture of the morels a nice foil to the tender snails.
Three of us shared a risotto course ($16), this one with Parmesan and asparagus. We could taste the Parmesan and butter. The Arborio had a pleasant chewiness. But if I were eating this as a main course, I might be disappointed by the serving size.
After my Oriental caramelized rack of lamb ($36) arrived, I quickly realized the difference between a French interpretation of Asian flavor and real Asian flavor. This is the meek version, although the lamb was tender, and cooked to the medium-rare temperature I'd requested. A fillet of wild salmon ($26) was overcooked, and served with a thick beurre blanc. Grilled prawns ($28) had a pleasant brininess not found in farm-raised prawns. Flavored with a pastis, anise-flavored liqueur, the only disappointment was that we didn't get to see the prawns flambéed, as the menu describes.
Since the menu is a la carte, we ordered unremarkable steamed vegetables ($8) and dauphinoise potatoes gratin ($8), individual ramekins, filled with creamy layers of underseasoned potatoes.
Desserts include a faithful version on Paris-Brest ($14), pate a choux with crunchy hazelnut cream and ice cream that was just a little too cold. A chocolate dessert ($15) was much better, with three chocolate preparations, including a delectable mousse-filled tube.
I was disappointed to be handed a one-page wine list without prices. I wondered if that meant the prices were negotiable? We were told there was so much fluctuation that they'd have to print wine lists every day. Oh, the cost of being in the restaurant business.
The restaurant seats 90 inside and another 50 on the patio. But I'm not sure L'etoile is the answer to the two previous restaurants — MoQuila and the Spaniard — that have occupied this space. In early February, the Christmas decorations were still up.
99 SEMizner Blvd., Palmetto Place, Boca Raton
Hours: Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Valet or street parking