click to enlarge bartlettimage-le_coq_au_vin-5808.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

A venerated house of classic French cuisine falls to Earth at Le Coq au Vin 

Pardon my French

From the pages of Damn! That Restaurant Is Still Around??? comes Le Coq au Vin, the 42-year-old grande dame of classique cuisine, appropriately approachable for Orlando, yet suitably stiff and polished as one would expect of a French resto. That this anti-Millennial vestige is still kicking around either says something about people's love for wood paneling and stained glass chickens, or the pedigree of chef-owner Reimund Pitz and former chef-owner (now partner) Louis Perrotte. Their creds are as heavy as a béchamel, and, among industry insiders, the pair draw veneration for their skilled technique, mentoring of young chefs, and involvement with the American Culinary Federation. (Pitz is the current manager of ACF's Team USA, who will represent the country in international culinary competitions.) But it had been a while since I paid a visit to the Coq (gasp! Classic French isn't a cuisine I regularly crave) and I'd clearly forgotten how trés chère everything was.

Nearly 10 bucks ($9.95) for a bowl of French onion soup? For one with a beefier broth sans lemony tang, I might drop a sawbuck, but this was no $10 bowl of soup. The seafood crepes "Britain" ($14.95) that our waiter – with no amount of certainty – said were filled with a mix of sea scallops, shrimp and salmon, couldn't have been presented in more sullen a fashion. The pair of pustuled and overbroiled cylinders embalmed in a heavy sauce mousseline was anything but the "delicate crepes" the menu promised. They died a slow death and the kitchen morticians saw past the need for any cosmetic touch-ups. A smallish smoked salmon terrine ($15.95) finished with a dill cream cheese and served with a cucumber salad was yet another exercise in uninspired plating, though the refreshing flavors were alive enough.

Then the "legumes" ($24.75), a cooked veg platter that vegetarians won't find any pleasure in: steamed broccoli, carrots and greens along with cheesed tomatoes, a mound of beet tartare, some ratatouille and a sweet potato parsnip pie. The only thing astonishing about this dish, apart from the complete lack of imagination or creativity that went into it, was its price. You can call it "rustic" or "Provençal" or whatever you want, but it seemed more like a middle-finger salute to meatless dining.

It just doesn't seem fitting from a chef as experienced and as highly decorated as Pitz. But what we were experiencing was an impassive kitchen leaning heavily on its reputation, content to go through the motions. If we sensed any semblance of passion, it was in the restaurant's namesake dish – a coq au vin ($25.95) worthy of the "rustic" label, lolling in a ruddy braising liquid heady with the essence of onions, mushrooms and bacon. Buttered egg noodles lent an added layer of comfort, and I didn't mind the side of carrots and broccoli either. Just as encouraging was the canard ($36.50) served two ways – as a crispy leg confit and as sliced duck breast scented with lavender and honey, topped with pears and cherries and slathered in a kirsch-flavored sauce. But that price! Oof. If anything, the dishes offer hope to the gouged diner – but hope, so the saying goes, is a good breakfast but a bad supper. Case in point: a completely overdone tilefish ($29.75), crisped around the edges, topped with four candied pecans and drizzled in a tomato beurre blanc.

I suppose mentioning an utterly curdled chocolate soufflé ($10.50) and crêpes Suzette ($8.50) with burnt ends and a chintzy Grand Marnier drizzle would be pointless but, nevertheless, there it is.

Of course a restaurant that's been around since 1976 will go through its inevitable ups and downs but, as it stands, Le Coq au Vin's chickens appear to have come home to roost.

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