Fairbanks Ranch has not been kind to the string of restaurateurs who have succeeded one another at the Fairbanks Ranch Plaza space occupied a decade ago by La Difference and most recently by La Dolce Vita. When they were good, both of these places were very good--but their best failed to maintain them in business.
Le Paris stand a better chance of survival. It joins the tiny but expanding coterie of French restaurants in the area that actually trouble to serve French food.
Partners Gerard Bourgain and Ray LeLarge, both from Paris, have written lunch and dinner menus that in their hometown would be considered bistro fare (hardly a criticism), but here, where the distinction does not exist, look like comprehensive restaurant lists. The selection of dishes is fresh and pleasant, the quality of the cooking quite superior.
The twist to both menus is the prix fixe service, which specifies a three-course lunch at $9.95 and a four-course dinner at $21.95, both prices exclusive of beverages, tax and tip. Especially at dinner, considerable choice exists within the starter, entree and dessert courses. The French Side of the West, an oddly-named restaurant in downtown San Diego, is the only other restaurant in this county to take an exclusively prix fixe approach; it has enjoyed immense success in the process.
Although three courses may seem more than some of us want at noon, the preparations tend to be light and served in moderate portion, and a recent lunch seemed a steal at the price. That both guests returned scraped plates to the kitchen made a definitive comment.
The meal opened with a choice between the soup of the day and the assiette de crudites du jardin , a fancy French way of saying a plate of salad greens with marinated and dressed vegetables. Both were sampled, and both pleased. The soup, a minestrone, featured a minimum of beans and an absence of pasta, and relied instead on a wealth of vegetables simmered with chunks of chicken in a sturdy, full-bodied broth. The luxury greens in the assiette supported a quartet of veggies, or an excellent shredded carrot salad in piquant vinaigrette, mustardy celeri (celery root) remoulade , a sliced tomato in vinaigrette, and discouraged cucumbers that should not have intruded on the scene.
The delicious celeri remoulade , a standard French treat that turns up occasionally on local menus, returned as a bed for an entree salad of poached fresh salmon. A simple enough plate, it relied on first-rate ingredients given first-rate treatment; the salmon, pink and lovely, tasted as good as it looked.
In addition to such choices as marinated chicken brochette served over greens, a provencale seafood brochette, steak tartare (a rarity, and a luxury at lunch), a country-style omelet and calves liver finished with shallots and capers, the kitchen offered a special of tenderloin tips in a Stroganoff finish. Beef stroganoff, long a "party dish" in American homes and frequently sauced with cream of mushroom soup, can be excellent, a fact that explains its initial popularity and subsequent bastardization. This one was handsome, the meat succulent and only lightly moistened with a paprika-spiked brown sauce.
The unexpected, wonderfully elegant garnishes made the plate; these were a slice of carrot terrine , a wedge of crisp, straw potato cake, a square of zucchini custard and, for want of better description, a delicate "football" of minced mushrooms. Cooking like this is a rarity.
The desserts included a dressy meringue with coffee ice cream and rich chocolate sauce, and a freshly baked puff pastry box filled with strawberries and whipped cream, rather like a strawberry shortcake a la francaise .
Dinner was not sampled, but the menu reads well. At night, the choice expands to include both soup or salad and an appetizer, followed by entrees drawn from a list that includes confit of duck on a bed of avocado in vinaigrette, lamb loin in herb sauce, veal paupiettes (rolled scallops) stuffed with wild mushrooms, and a cassoulet of seafood done in the style of the famous fish soup called bouillabaisse . The dessert list takes an even more elegant tone than at lunch.
16236 San Dieguito Rd., Fairbanks Ranch
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner nightly.
Cost: Fixed price lunch $9.95, dinner $21.95, exclusive of beverages, tax and tip.