Last week, Sandy and I watched “Top Chef” contestants working with oysters and clams. We knew what was going to be on tap for supper. During happy hour, the Oyster House on Sansom Street offers a buck a shuck for the oyster of the day and cherrystone clams. Those Delaware Bay oysters and jumbo Jersey cherrystones were delectable.
As we walked home, we discovered La Petite Dauphine, a new French café on Walnut Street near 21st. The colorful outdoor sign was most inviting. It featured a photograph of multi-colored macaroons made famous by the great French pastry chef Francois Payard.
The following day, Sandy and I decided to lunch at La Petite Dauphine. The room is kitted out in black and white with high ceilings, original moldings and wainscoting with delicate clear glass vases filled with soft-colored flowers affixed to the walls. The menu was small but I never have a problem with that.
Sandy chose the tomato salad ($10) and I began with wild mushroom soup ($7) followed by salade Niçoise ($13).
It is safe to say Friday Saturday Sunday, which has been in business for nearly 40 years, serves the finest wild mushroom soup in the city. Unfortunately for me, I received a travesty. A café au lait-sized bowl was about half filled with a thin, gray liquid that lacked any wild mushroom flavor and was so salty, no human could eat it.
Our server removed it while we waited for our next course. She returned a few minutes later to let us know the chef was fixing the soup. You cannot fix an extremely salty, watery soup. Any chef worth his or her salt (pun not intended here) can do this. The lunch immediately went into a downward spiral.
We asked for bread with our entrées since a fine baguette is one of the hallmarks of a French café. About 10 minutes later, a waitress brought me two slices of dry, whole wheat toast.
“I don’t have a baguette now, but I can run out and get you one,” a gentleman told us.
I don’t have to tell you what was going through my mind at that moment. I asked for a croissant ($2.50), which we shared.
Sandy’s tomato salad consisted of several thin slices of pale, unripe tomato that tasted like cardboard. They were so anemic they needed a blood transfusion. Some red onion, a few canned black olives, a small mound of soggy mesclun straight from the bag comprised her lunch.
I almost shed a tear when I saw the salade Niçoise. It was an insult to French cuisine and I have no idea what the chef was thinking. My plate was set with overdressed, soggy, bagged mesclun; a hard-cooked egg cut in half; a few slices of sushi-like tuna, which lacked flavor; some chopped tomatoes, as described above; and a few canned black olives, which tasted like vulcanized rubber.
“Where are the Niçoise olives?” I asked my sister. “They are available everywhere.”
Whoever was in the kitchen forgot the haricots vert which were listed on the menu. A waitress brought me a few ordinary blanched green beans on a separate plate.
“The chef did not salt the salad,” she told me.
As Gordon Ramsey would say, “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
Sandy and I sampled both desserts because we were still hungry. A slice of flourless chocolate cake ($6) was not too bad, but it sat naked on the plate. It needed some whipped cream to balance the richness of the chocolate. The lemon tart ($6) contained a wee bit more gelatin than I like but at least the balance of acid and sweet was just fine. A large cup of illy coffee was brewed just right and was the highlight of the day.
This establishment needs work. One tip of the toque to La Petite Dauphine.