edible words
March. 04, 2005

An embrace of French character and class

by Mike Taylor

When writing about, and dining at, restaurants such as Le Fou Frog, there’s always the compulsion — considering the expense involved — to say whether the cost was worth it or not.

At Mano and Barbara Rafael's eight-year-old French bistro, 400 E. 5th St, a dinner could easily cost more than $50 per person, without wine or cocktails. And some might find the portions skimpy.

My friend Karen the caterer expressed amazement when her entrée arrived one evening. She surveyed the single pieces of grilled vegetables dotting the square white plate around her entrée and exclaimed, "Half a Brussels sprout! Who would serve half a Brussels sprout? Excuse me! I'm insulted."

But dining at Le Fou Frog is worth it as far as I'm concerned.

A lot of allowances have to be made in a restaurant with a name that translates into "the crazy Frenchman". I can accept smaller portions of the food Le Fou Frog serves. The menu lists some of the most exotic ingredients found in this area, uniquely prepared and served artistically. I'll accept that those vegetable pieces were garnishes rather than a side dish.

The Rafaels have created a little piece of his native Marseilles with food, music and a vibrant atmosphere inside a low-slung cinderblock building two blocks east of the City Market. With "this bistro" and "bistro that" across the restaurant landscape these days, featuring who-knows-what kind of food, the Rafaels operate a true bistro — from the butcher paper covering white tablecloths to the raucous clatter filling the small dining room to the simply prepared dishes served elegantly.

The music — live at times — begins early in the evening when the first customers arrive. Servers yell at each other and customers across the room. Despite the dim lights, it's a good people-watching scene with a diverse demographic. The flurry of activity raises the conversation level in volume and intensity.

Ahi Tuna Rolled in Pepper Corn Thyme surrounded with Chive oil.
(photo by Sam Garcia)


A printed menu describes the soups, salads and more than a dozen hot and cold appetizers. Hand-printed chalkboards list the evening's entrees. It’s an extravagant list of nearly a dozen fish and seafood dishes along with more than a dozen other dishes, ranging from chicken breasts and KC Strips to rabbit loin and kangaroo. (For a sample menu go to www.lefoufrog.com )

During my visits, our party tasted kangaroo, rabbit, venison, prawns, Blue Trevally Snapper and Onaga fish along with Rafael's versions of beef, chicken and lamb.

We tried to combine soup, salad and hor d'oeuvres for our first course when we dined there. We tried the French Onion Soup ($5.75) and a lobster bisque ($6.50). The French onion soup made with veal stock tasted sweet and rich just as expected. The bisque had a harsh bite that overwhelmed the lobster flavor.

I could eat Coquilles St. Jacques Gratinee ($11.50) for dessert rather than as an appetizer. The scallop, leek and mushroom concoction baked in Gruyere cheese was my favorite. Our parties also made short work of escargot ($8.95), Salmon Tartare ($15) and steamed mussels ($8.95) on different evenings. Eight-year-old Angie tried a snail reluctantly, after watching the rest of us eat them without displaying ill effects. Afterwards, she said, "It was ok," with an expression suggesting that eating snails was an accomplishment she would not repeat for awhile.

As I said, the entrée menu presents a range not found in many restaurants. Our parties tried a wide variety with satisfaction all around. One night, I had four plump diver scallops over risotto with a roasted yellow tomato sauce spiced with ginger ($26). The acid sauce and the smoke from the grill heightened the flavor of the sweet, satiny scallops.

Emily had rabbit loin stuffed with a lobster and truffle oil dressing served with garlic mashed potatoes ($26) one evening. All the flavors combined for a decadent dish with a hint of gaminess. All the dishes we ordered were perfectly prepared with obviously fresh and high quality ingredients.

The desserts too provide diners a sample of true French cooking. Along with a selection of classic French pastries such as the cream puff-like Profiteroles and the flourless Marquis chocolate cake, the bistro gives diners a selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets as well as vanilla crème Brulee and a caramel flan puddings. We enjoyed the warm Profiteroles ($8) with its fluffy pastry surrounding a scoop of flavorful ice vanilla cream doused in a decadent chocolate sauce. We also tried a less-sweet apple tart with tangy al dente apple slices under a flaky crust accompanied by ice cream and a caramel sauce. Both fine ways to cap a unique meal.

While the servers were all well versed about the menu and attentive, their slips dampened our pleasure two of the times we were there. One evening, the server completely forgot the salads we ordered between the appetizers and our entrees. The blunder made for a long wait between courses. She made up for the omission by giving us the desserts free.

Allowances can be made for such service in such a raucous atmosphere with difficult acoustics. And the uniqueness of the ingredients prepared superbly by Chef Rafael forgives what some may consider skimpy portions. I enjoyed my dining experiences at Le Fou Frog and I know it's the closest I'll get to Marseilles in the near future.


Le Fou Frog

(photo by Sam Garcia)

400 E. 5th St, Kansas City, MO

816-474-6060

Lunch; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Wed.-Fri..

Dinner; 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs;
Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-11 p. m.; Sun., 5p.m.-9p.m

Ratings: (out of four stars)

FOOD ****
SERVICE **..5
ATMOSPHERE ****

PRICE $$$-$$$$

Key: $-under $10 • $$-$10 to $20 • $$$-over $20

 

fork, knife, spoon


              
              
                 

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