But during one of my strolls through Park Avenue in the neighborhood of Winter Park, I came across the Café de France. This jewel of a restaurant was opened in 1982, and after over three decades, it continues to delight the locals with its quaint, yet distinguished, French cuisine. The place has but a few tables, and the décor is reminiscent of the famous bistros in France, with prints of them on its walls – such as the Café de Flore, Le Napoleon et al.
While I waited for my order I visited the toilet. For one, I always like to wash my hands before eating, but from my table I could also see that if I did so, I could get a good peak into the kitchen. And I’m very glad I did. It had a look of a country, yet professional cooking space, small but with all that is necessary accoutrements to make it impeccably efficient, yet cozy; a place where a chef would look forward to coming to work every day. The fact that I got an invitation to go into it for sure next time I visit can only increase my confidence in what I would see happening in it.
For dessert I let the waiter choose for me as well. Again, it was a wise decision. The chocolate trio provided the much needed chocolate element for the day in question, with a foamy but not at all soggy chocolate mousse, espresso ice-cream – which was not melted when it got to my table, thank God (I HATE melted ice-cream) – and a tiny espresso.
The warm days of Spring offered an opportunity to taste a unique delicacy - steak tartare. The origin of this dish goes back to the Mongolian hordes, who used to spend most of their lives on horseback. As they went along pillaging from village to village, the soldiers of Genghis Khan carried chopped raw meat in their saddles in order to tenderize it. After several hours of "grinding", it was quickly seasoned and eaten raw. The French version tops the heap with a raw egg yolk, providing for a hearty dish.
Although some people may have reservations about eating raw meat and raw egg all at once, I'm certainly not one of them. As long as one is using quality product, like the best rib-eye, grass fed one can find and farm fresh eggs, there is absolutely no problem. We must also remember that meat, especially when grilled, shouldn't really be cooked too much. At Café de France, the dish is accompanied by crusty baguette slices, slightly grilled (heaven!) and paillés frites, the thinnest of French fries. A light Beaujolais or a fruity Côtes du Rhône will pair beautifully with this rich dish.
A light dessert was all that was needed after the the hearty steak. A selection of sorbets both aided digestion and cleansed the palate.