Bistro aims to alter perception

Casual: The owner of Cafe de Paris wants to demystify French cuisine.

Restaurant profile

April 04, 2002|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cafe de Paris, a French bistro formerly in Laurel, has found a new home in Columbia, where owner Erik Rochard wants to do more than offer excellent food. He wants to change the public's perception of French cuisine.

"I think that the French restaurants in all the big cities in the United Sates are a bit over-priced, high-end and fancy," he said. "I wanted to show that a bistro concept - a place where you can come in casually and find good food at a reasonable price in a nice atmosphere - has a place in an average-sized city. I had offers to go to Baltimore, Philadelphia and D.C., but I was more attracted to locate in Columbia, where you have a melting pot of people."

On the site of the former Tavern at Centre Park, Cafe de Paris opened Friday and seats 95 in the dining room, with seating for an additional 40 in the banquet room. As warmer weather approaches, Rochard plans to offer outdoor seating.

Cafe de Paris specializes in French country cooking. "It's a mosaic of different influences all related to the location of France in Europe," said Rochard, who was born in Sweden and raised in Paris. "You've got the Germanic influence, the Mediterranean influence, the richness of Perigord [a region of southwest France] with the duck and goose liver, the seafood influence from Brittany and the peasant cooking from the center of France."

Patrons who helped make the restaurant a success at its former location will find a few changes on the menu and in the kitchen. Rochard has pared the number of dishes to give his team time to perfect the menu. Chef Benjamin Cattan joins Cafe de Paris after a stint at La Petite Cour in Paris. Reservations are strongly recommended.

"You can't train a team of people to handle 150 customers without time," he said. "I turned away 150 people last weekend, but I do that so our customers will have good food and a good experience."

Diners with a healthy appetite may want to try the Dinner Formule, or prix fixe dinner, choosing any appetizer, main course and dessert from the menu for $32.95.

Appetizers include French onion soup ($7.50), duck confit with lentil salad ($7.95) and Chef's Terrine ($7.50). The richly flavored Chef's Terrine is made with pork liver pate, port wine, garlic, pistachios, chicken livers, dried fruits, veal and onions.

Entrees include pan seared salmon with ratatouille ($21.95), chicken fricassee with risotto ($21.95), duck breast with vegetables purees and honey ($22.95) and the popular Angus rib eye with french fries ($23.95).

Rochard hopes diners will save room for dessert. Priced at $6.95 each, desserts include creme brulee, chocolate fondant, clafoutis, profiteroles and an apple tart.

"On a regular basis, Americans don't take dessert," he said. "I want people to have dessert. ... It finishes the book."

The restaurant includes space for a French deli, expected to open next week. Rochard said the deli will feature quiches, pates, breads, croissants and pastries, and French sandwiches made with French ham and cheeses. The deli will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"I want to demystify French cooking and French gastronomy," Rochard said. "In the image of the public, French cooking is mysterious and fancy. It's not fancy. It makes sense."

Cafe de Paris

Where: 8808 Centre Park Drive, Columbia; 410-997-3904.

Hours: Open for dinner only, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday. The restaurant plans to start serving lunch next week, with hours from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $6.95 to $7.95; entrees, $21.95 to $23.95.

Credit cards: All major credit cards accepted.

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