A visit to a French restaurant in Dallas is certainly an experience when you realize how few of them there are in this area. Fortunately, Lavendou Bistro Provençal is one of the very best, owned and operated by one of the most amazing hosts our city has today – Pascal Cayet.
Pascal’s first job was at Tour d’Argent in Paris, overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral and arrived in Dallas in the 1980’s where he was one of the innovators for French cuisine. He was founder and owner of the famous French Country restaurant Chez Gerard on McKinney Avenue, which was one of Stanley Marcus’ favorite restaurants. It was during a period of growth that Pascal moved his restaurant north, and then it was very far north, to his location on Preston just south of the George Bush Turnpike. Thus the birth of Lavendou, this slice of France located in a cozy shopping center.
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Lavendou Bistro Provençal This restaurant continues to seduce us with its French countryside charm. The cozy blue-and-yellow color scheme, filled with hand-screened Pierre Deux fabrics, screams Provence. The menu whispers classic French: Escargots a la Bourguignonne, Coquilles Saint Jacques, Canard roti au Cassis. Service is personal. The wine is French. The spirit is not pretentious. It's honest and comforting.
Lavendou Bistro Provençal The closest many of us will come to dining in a summer home in the French countryside of Provence is to take a table for the night at Lavendou. Here the decor is accented with the familiar warm blue and yellow tones of a painting by Cezanne or Van Gogh. The atmosphere complements owner Pascal Cayet's specialties such as Coquilles Saint Jacques aux Tomates et Basilic and Entrecote Grillee des Halles, served alongside seasonal French dishes such as Choucroute Garni a l'Alsacienne and Mirabelle plum tarts.
Here's a little ray of sunshine amid the doom and gloom of the current local restaurant climate: Lavendou, named one of the 12 best new restaurants in this magazine in 1997, is still one of the city's top dining experiences. The little Provence-inspired bistro is trapped in a nondescript strip shopping center in Far North Dallas. Yet on a recent Saturday night, every seat in the house was taken, which contributed to the warm, convivial vibe. While the service was sluggish - it could have been the massive party in the back - all annoyances fell away when we dug our little forks into fat escargot bathed in butter, crackling garlic, and parsley. To follow, fresh and lightly dressed baby greens topped with Parma ham, pine nuts, and warm, crisped discs of goat cheese - a happy departure from Caesar. The mains shined just as brightly. Fork-tender filet arrived as rare as requested, hiding under a blanket of brandy cream sauce flecked with peppercorn; a pastry shell held skillfully prepared shrimp and scallops mingling with mushrooms and spinach in a dreamy herbed cream sauce. Our only quibble were the pommes frites, which lacked that crispy crunch. But they could not dampen this delightful dinner, which didn't put a dent in our pocketbooks, either.
Lavendou - "God is in the details," the favorite aphorism of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, could be the slogan of Lavendou. The country French bistro in Far North Dallas is owned by Pascal Cayet, who also has Chez Gerard on McKinney, and Espartaco Borga, who was a co-founder of the ZuZu Mexican chain. They have carefully orchestrated every aspect of the restaurant, from the flower-sprigged tablecloths that were silk-screened by hand to the miniature boxes of mints that appear at the meal's end. The result is warm with color and charm - and the food will lift your spirits, too. Our favorite dishes included escargots in puff pastry; mussels in a saffron-scented cream and white wine sauce; rotisserie duck with black currants; salmon in an emerald-green basil sauce; and Tournedos Felix Faure, the peppered steak that is a signature dish at Chez Gerard. Service was still shaky when we reviewed Lavendou in late November, but we like its fairly priced French and California wine list - a detail so many new restaurants are overlooking.
Diners in far North Dallas are always in search of fine dining. As a matter of fact, they are hungry for it. Granted, there are more restaurants on the Beltline strip between the Tollway and Midway than on most major thoroughfares, but very few are of the fine dining caliber. Gourmands out North welcomed Mediterreano, Ruggeri's and Mi Piaci with open arms. All three offer predominately Italian menus. Recently, a fine French dining spot has opened in the area. Lavendou, the sibling to Chez Gerard on McKinney, has opened in the strip center on Preston Road, north of Frankford. Although drive-up appeal off busy Preston Road may not be the best for a restaurant, Lavendou's bright yellow awning and lattice-covered patio make it the most inviting spot in the center. Once inside, the cozy French atmosphere transcends the diner to a more comfortable setting. The mustard and navy colored Pierre Deux prints and pine-stained armoires and bookshelves give the restaurant a homey feel. Lighted wall scones and large table lamps added to the evening's atmosphere. Some of the dishes sampled at Lavendou brought back memories of wonderful meals from past culinary trips to France. For openers, the Gratinee a l'Oignon (the onion soup) was as good as I can remember. A thick blanket of Gyuere cheese practically encased the bowl, which was chockfull of carmelized onions, flavorful broth and more cheese. Rich, hot and hearty. Of the entrees, my favorites were the fish specialties. Filet de Mahi Mahi Barigoule, Mahi Mahi with artichokes, consisted of a grilled filet of Mahi Mahi on a bed of braised scallions with sauteed baby artichokes. The dish offered three distinct, flavorful textures. The Saumon au Cavier Daubergine Sauce Verte ran a close second. The filet's pink center was just as it should be prepared, and the eggplant and basil cream sauce, smooth and perfectly seasoned, was its "crowning glory". The restaurant already seems to have a loyal following from those who live in the area. Even though Lavendou is not on my beaten path, I'll take the Tollway out North to experience more memorable delicacies from the South of France.