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No Surprises at LaFayette in Garden Grove

October 29, 1987|BEVERLY BUSH SMITH | Smith is a free-lance restaurant reviewer in El Toro

'This is deja vu --like I'm stepping back into a French restaurant of 15 years ago," I whispered to my husband as we began our evening at LaFayette in Garden Grove.

"And what," he asked, "is the matter with that?"

What indeed? There's something very comfortable about the traditional styling, the classic menu here.

The palette of beige and gold, the high, dark ceilings, may seem a little oppressive, but banquettes are commodious and well spaced. Many are separated by side-drapes--perfect for a romantic evening--and lighted by small, individual chandeliers.

Crisp white cloths and fresh flowers grace the tables, and waiters in tuxedos strike a nice balance of formality and friendliness. Just one jarring note: Though topped with snowy linen, some service carts look scuffed, shabby.

If you're hungry for squid ink or boar or stuffed zucchini blossoms, this is not the spot. But if you love the tried and true French food, beautifully prepared, it is the spot.

At LaFayette bread arrives at the table promptly, fresh, crusty and hot, followed by two complimentary appetizers. The fresh deviled salmon pleases with moist richness, and the ratatouille departs from the usual cooked-to-death paste.

Cream of watercress, LaFayette's signature soup, soothes with delicate flavor, cream and butter smoothness. Generous quantities of Roquefort liven a salad with mild vinaigrette.

The day's fresh fish--halibut one time, swordfish another--are both superbly grilled and served with lemon and capers. Veal LaFayette, tender to the fork and flavorful with Sherry cream sauce and mushrooms, takes us back to those halcyon days before we fretted about cholesterol.

Sweetbreads, finished in a light Madeira sauce, with a profusion of mushrooms, all but melt in the mouth. Duckling, flamed at the table and graciously served, comes forth crisp but moist, accented by a creamy green peppercorn sauce.

Three nicely cooked vegetables accompany all entrees, which range from steak tartar to the popular rack of fresh lamb and imported sole.

Even though the servings are generous, you must choose from the dessert cart. Black Forest cake, generously anointed with Kirsch, seemed hard to surpass--till we tasted the Napoleon, the epitome of flaky tenderness, livened with red raspberry sauce. Only the three-berry tart disappointed me with pastry that was a bit tough.

Obviously there's classically schooled talent in the kitchen at LaFayette, and indeed, co-owners Edmond Sarfati and Pierre Boulenez were trained at the Lausanne restaurant-hotel school. Boulenez serves as number one chef, responsible for sauces and entrees. Sarfati handles pates and pastries and lends his Gallic wit and warmth to the dining room.

At noon, LaFayette becomes the power lunch spot of the area for attorneys, judges, doctors from the nearby medical center, and officials from Anaheim and its convention center.

Favorites are white veal in three different styles, scampi, grenadins of beef, sauteed calf's liver in a light sauce, vol au vent with seafood; Nicoise and Caesar salads.

LaFayette offers full cocktail service and an extensive list of California and French wines.

If you are wondering a bit about the less-than-glamorous location, trust me. This is classic French fare, with your full meal (appetizer, soup or salad, entree) priced no higher than entrees at most a la carte French restaurants.

LaFayette Restaurant Francais, 12532 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove. Reservations, (714) 537-5011. Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, priced $7 to $10.50. Dinner from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday; priced $15 to $19. All major credit cards. Lot parking.

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