The Muldoon area of Anchorage is not exactly the Left Bank, so I was excited to learn that Paris Bakery and Café, under the ownership of Chef Antoine Amouret, has been quietly serving French cuisine, a culinary niche that is sadly underrepresented in Anchorage, there since 2010. So, with an Edith Piaf song in my heart and a mad craving for escargots, I headed there for lunch with a few friends.
The room is a pleasant, quiet little oasis in a decidedly funky strip mall. Located amidst a scratch card outlet, tanning salon, gun store and tae kwon do studio, it is surely the only business in the mall playing French accordion music. A black chalkboard wall displaying the day's specials is an evocative and charming touch. The room is a bit dated, but comfortable and clean (with the exception of the well-used menus, which have seen better days).
The lunch menu was disappointingly American. Only a few overtly French offerings were among the typical lunchtime sandwiches (BBQ pulled pork, meatballs, Italian sausage and BLT sandwiches included). Determined to indulge my inner Francophile, I ordered a croque-monsieur ($12.95) with an added fried egg (making it, technically, a croque-madame). My friend Sue also went continental, ordering the special quiche of the day ($8.95). Her husband Dave ordered the hamburger (pronounced "am-burg-air"), also with a fried egg ($10.95). Their daughter Jessica opted for the Philly dip ($11.95).
The croque-monsieur was warm, but not adequately melty or grilled ("croque," after all, means "crunch" and it was decidedly lacking in that). Worse was the egg on top -- instead of the runny, sunny-side-up egg promised on the menu, I received a browned hockey puck cooked, obviously, over-hard. It sat, sad and rubbery, atop the sandwich until I plunked it on the side of my plate. That said, if you can get over the fact that the sandwich was not as advertised, it was a perfectly tasty ham and cheese sandwich.
Sue's quiche was also merely so-so (or, if you like, comme ci, comme ça?). While it was packed with flavorful ingredients like leeks and goat cheese, the texture was lacking; the eggs were too firm, with none of the custardy softness that elevates a scrambled egg to quiche status.
On the plus side, the Philly dip was robust and over-stuffed and I really enjoyed the jus -- it was beefy, with the right amount of salt and without the telltale specter of soy or Worcestershire sauce that is present in many a local jus. Dave's burger was the standout of the day. It was tall, well-seasoned and on a pleasantly crusty roll. He scarfed it down and declared himself satisfied.
A good wine and beer list helped us wash down the meal's disappointments, and good service left us happy overall. If you're in the Muldoon area, it's a fine lunch spot, but not a destination restaurant by any means.
I had higher hopes for dinner when Sue and I returned the next week. The dinner menu is closer to classic French, with more ambitious dishes. I'm left wondering if Chef Antoine only works the kitchen during the evening, leaving lunch to a more American-style sous-chef.
We were seated right away in the sparsely occupied dining room and began by sharing the escargots appetizer ($9). It was divine. Salty, tender little morsels of snail nestled inside tiny puffs of light, crispy pastry, dressed in a perfect butter/wine sauce. The dish is decadent but tastes light, with a subtle sauce that really allows the snails to sing. The whole thing was consumed within minutes of hitting the table.
For our entrees, we shared the beef bourguignon ($25) and the Scallops Madame St. Jacques ($25). First, the beef. A generous portion of braised beef heartily complemented by carrots and potatoes, this is a very robust dish. The puff pastry was just right -- it crumbled lightly into the sauce, creating a buttery, starchy creaminess. The beef itself was rather tough, though reasonably flavorful. I suspect the cut of meat was too lean; a bit of fattiness could have made the dish richer and more satisfying. The sauce was bright, with just the right amount of acid to cut through the earthier elements of meat and potato. As usual, I found it a tiny bit lacking in seasoning, but a dash of salt at the table was a quick fix. (I worry that I sound like a broken record when it comes to seasoning. I do realize that salt can be added to a dish but not removed, so I understand a chef's inclination to under-season).
The scallops were perfectly cooked. I don't personally care for a rare, translucent center on my scallops, which seems to be the norm for many restaurants, so I appreciated the "just done" temperature of these. They were cooked through but still pliant and tender. The beurre blanc didn't overwhelm their delicacy. The only problem with the dish was the risotto, which was gluey, as if it had been reheated and not made to order.
My experience with Paris Bakery and Café had its ups and downs, but it's a sincere little restaurant with good service, a pleasant atmosphere and a flair for sauces. Some of the dishes could be refined (and a refresher course on how to cook an egg would not be amiss), but in a town with a sad absence of French cookery, I left the restaurant saying, "Non, je ne regrette rien."
Paris Bakery and Café
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Closed Monday.
Location: 500 Muldoon Road, Ste. 6
Contact: 337-2575 and parisbakeryandcafe.com