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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Flaming French Favorites

November 10, 1994|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN

When the Chalet de France opened 32 years ago, it was a trendsetter for Torrance and the South Bay, serving daring novelties such as beef Wellington, vichyssoise and flaming steak Diane. Those dishes are no longer seen as daring, and dining here nowadays is a bit like taking a history class in classic French cuisine. But judging by the Chalet's consistently packed houses, it's a very popular course.

Situated at the edge of a quiet residential neighborhood and just up the hill from a relatively desolate stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, the Chalet de France signals its presence with a long tricolor awning. It may seem a bit imposing from the outside, but the interior has the comfortable, rustic elegance of a country inn and you are greeted by the sincere welcome of Champagne-born owner and hostess Andree Haon.

Chef Michel Cleire apprenticed in Vichy, then made his way to America, becoming head chef at the Chalet in 1984. A quick look at the soup offerings is a bit like looking at your school yearbook and seeing old friends--onion soup gratineed under a thick layer of cheese ($3.25), the famous cold leek-and-potato soup, vichyssoise, ($3.25) and a rich lobster bisque with chunks of lobster ($5.25).

The classics continue into the hors d'oeuvre listings: escargots de Bourgogne , rich with garlic butter ($6.50), oysters Rockefeller ($9.50) and a seafood crepe filled with bay scallops and halibut and topped with Parmesan ($6.50). Jumbo shrimp ($8.50) are sauteed with butter, cognac, fresh dill and basil.

Steak Diane ($21.95) is still one of the most popular choices--a filet mignon prepared at your table in a red wine sauce with shallots, peppercorns and fresh thyme, then flamed with cognac. Roast Long Island duckling, served with orange sauce, is also flamed with cognac. If that's more flame than your table desires, Veal Normande ($19) is simply sauteed in a light cream sauce with mushrooms, apples and Calvados, the French apple brandy.

Chalet de France is at 23254 Robert Road, Torrance (310) 540-4646. Open Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Tuesday through Sunday 4 to 10 p.m.

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