Monday, February 15, 2010

Another Visit To L'Albatros

I was recently invited to join a group of other diners at the latest Cleveland Eats group of The group schedules periodic dinner dates at some of Cleveland and Akron's newest and hottest restaurants. Tonight's dining destination? L'Albatros in University Circle. Having eaten there several times in the past, I was excited to return again to experience some of Zack Bruell's amazing country French fare.

Parking has always been a bit tight at L'Albatros. In the past there was a self-service machine at the front of the lot where you inserted cash or a credit card, paid for the number of hours you needed, and proceeded to walk into the restaurant. I don't know if that system has been replaced, but tonight there was a gentleman at the front entrance to the parking lot taking cash and doling out parking passes. Fortunately I managed to snap one of the few remaining spots available.

Here was a shot of the entrance to the restaurant:

Once inside, I was seated at the exact same table I've been at time and time again. Apparently there are only a few spots to put large parties. And as last time, the lighting inside the restaurant was extremely dim. In my last post, I had to pretty much discard all of my photos as they came out way too dark. This time, I had the advantage of having a flash camera. Fortunately, I sat at the end of the table where both food photographers were sitting, so we could minimize the exposure to others at the table.

As our entire party finally settled in for a much anticipated meal, one of the servers began doling out slices of French bread:

On its own, this was excellent bread, a sourdough version. Of course, I remarked about how good the bread tasted during my last visit, too. While there was softened butter for those who wished to partake, one additional condiment was present on the table that I hadn't seen before, a whole-grain, country-style Dijon mustard:

I thought that this was an even better condiment than the butter would have been. It was sweet, tart, spicy and salty all at the same time. And since the mustard seeds were only partially ground, they gave the spread a lovely texture that contrasted nicely with the bread.

Even though I had a flash camera tonight, menu shots are more or less pointless because of the physical size of the menu. Don't misunderstand, the menu was only a front and back side of a single piece of heavyweight paper. However, the physical dimensions on that piece of paper would've made photographs either incredibly hard to read or oddly disjointed. A better use of your time would be to check out the menu already posted on their website.

In the end, I decided to go with three tastes tonight. First, a salad from the daily specials. Second, a dish from one of their standard menu appetizers. Finally, an entree from one of their standard menu dishes.

Having given in to my relatively recent love affair with fresh roasted beets, once I heard that the daily salad special contained them, I was sold:

Consisting of a mixture of golden yellow and red beets, goat cheese, and arugula, this was simply dressed in a very light and slightly sweet champagne vinaigrette. Between the sweetness of the beets, the tanginess from the goat cheese, and the pepperiness from the arugula, this was quite the taste sensation. The leaves were perfectly dressed and by the time I reached the bottom of the plate, not an extra drop of dressing could be found.

For my appetizer course, the chicken liver and foie gras mousseline was simply calling my name:

Served with pickled red onion, cornichon and toasted bread slices, this was a sinful and unctuous way to celebrate liver. The mousseline was incredibly smooth, spreading easily on the toasted bread and delivering a mild liver flavor that literally melted in your mouth. Paired with the acidic onions and cornichon, this dish hit all the right spots on my tongue. I didn't ask my server, but I'm certain based on how light the mousseline tasted, it must have contained either whipped heavy cream or butter. Either way, it was decadent and delicious.

Finally, the main course. Having recently seen an episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown series on moules frites (aka mussels and fries), I knew that once I saw it on the menu at L'Alabtros, I had to order it. Here was a shot of my entree tonight:

The mussels were sitting in a white wine and butter sauce with lots of fresh garlic. The frites were topped with a chili-spiced aioli that gave a mild, but successful "zing!" to each bite of the frites. The mussels themselves were perfectly cooked and very tender. The broth, while delicious, really needed something other than frites in order to soak up the amazing juice ... perhaps some nice crusty French bread. Sadly, by that point, the "bread guy" had stopped making his rounds at our table. The frites were decent enough, clearly they were homemade, but they just don't have that nice crispness to them that I really desire in a fried potato. That being said, they were consistent with other versions of frites that I've had in Cleveland.

While some of our group still had room for dessert, I needed to pay my check and leave a little earlier since it was a work night and I still had to drive back to Akron. Overall, I really enjoyed my return trip back to L'Albatros and I'm happy that Chef Bruell's vision of a French brasserie is enjoying continued success. I know I am looking forward to returning soon for another excellent meal. The casual, yet intimate feel of the dining room should appeal to diners who are looking for a romantic evening out or who might just be looking to be transported to a small countryside restaurant in the southern part of France.

L'Albatros on Urbanspoon L'Albatros on Restaurantica


Mahala said...

I have made multiple visits to L'Albatros and I still don't understand the extremely positive buzz. I think that it's quite overrated. I have ordered diverse entrees just to make sure I am eating across a wide spectrum of the menu and each time things have come up short in one way or another. I am in no rush to go back, which is unfortunate due to its great location for so many activities that I attend. I want badly to love this place, but apparently is just isn't meant to be.

Tino said...

@Mahala: Every time I've gone, it's been great, but I have to be fair and acknowledge that you aren't the first person I've heard say that they've been less than impressed. What were some of the problems you noticed?

Mahala said...

The first dish I tried was skate wing. It was good, but I have had much better. All in all it was very basic. The second dish was scampis with cabbage, noodles and pernod. The scampis were nearly raw, and when sent back to the kitchen returned to the table in basically the same state. I don't mind my fish a little undercooked, but not seafood. And the cabbage and noodles were a condiment instead of a nicely balanced part of the dish. The third dish I ordered was the cassoulet. I expected a slow-cooked, complex dish, as is traditional. Instead it is a de-consructed cassoulet, with a bean dish as the base and the meat elements added to the top. Tasty enough, but not cassoulet. And a little on the bland side. The service has been less than stellar as well. One visit we were pretty much ignored other than taking our order, bringing it to the table, and receiving the check. Drink refills were never offered and bread only appeared at the very beginning of the meal. I am somewhat reassured that I am not the only one who has this experience. I was beginning to think it was just me.

Tino said...

There was MUCH discussion on the Cleveland Food and Wine Forum about that de-constructed cassoulet when L'Albatros first opened. Some felt it was fine to serve it de-constructed, others felt it shouldn't be called cassoulet unless served traditionally. Personally, I'm in the first group, but I can understand the alternating point of view.

Your other issues, undercooked seafood (twice no less), service issues, underseasoned food ... these are issues that I hope someone connected with L'Albatros finds here in these comments and can address them. Clearly you gave the restaurant multiple chances and each time you were underwhelmed.

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