FRENCH. Euro, adieu. The franc still reigns at La Baraka. Here's a French restaurant that keeps to tradition, where the prime currency is soulful cooking and the mood suggests a period before Jospin or Chirac, Mitterrand or Giscard.
Since the restaurant was last reviewed in 1994, very little has changed. Indeed, you could convincingly make the point that absolutely nothing has. Either way, there's reason to be happy. La Baraka resists the calendar.
Each day is Valentine's Day at this cozy, charming, all-heart eatery. Regulars abound. First-time visitors immediately feel just like them. The Champagne flows.
A poster for Piper is part of the decor, along with another for Lillet and one for Bieres de la Meuse. The warm dining room is full of stucco and dark wood, copper pots, painted plates, an old yoke to continue the provincial theme.
You'll feel contentedly countrified with the house's generous onion soup gratinee, a fragrant affair under a mantle of melted cheese. It's preferable to the underseasoned split-pea soup.
La Baraka extols escargots, and they're plump and very good, dressed to ensure you'll turn your bread into a sponge. The pate du jour may be a slablet of goose liver mousse, which is tres rich. But it's refrigerator cold, too.
You'll enjoy the quiche Lorraine, which instantly transports you to another decade. The spinach quiche does the same, but at a slower pace. Bestel translates into flaky pastry, akin to strudel, filled with meat, mashed potato, and egg. It's a tasty, diverting alternative.
A triangle of meat-filled pastry, and cumin-spiced chickpeas are among the appetizers that arrive in advance of La Baraka's singular main course: couscous royal. Couscous, the grainy semolina that's a staple in Algeria,Morocco and Tunisia, receives deluxe treatment here.
Atop a mound of the steamy couscous are a kebab of lamb, onions and peppers; beef flanken; a moist chicken breast; zesty sausage; and vegetables. This is one husky meal, but not a heavy one. Some spicy, peppery sauce accents the dish.
La Baraka also excels with frogs' legs, deftly sauteed, amply parsleyed, garlicky, delicate. And, as the saying goes, tastes like chicken. For diners who would rather have chicken itself, the roasted bird is recommended, finished with a modest mustard sauce. A juicy, broiled kebab of chicken is boosted by green peppercorn sauce.
Roast duck is fine, whether sauced a l'orange, or with sauces of peach or raspberry. And you can ensure fortification for the rest of winter with a serving of robust beef a la Bourguignonne, affectionately braised and bracing.
The filet mignon au poivre isn't the ideal cut for this preparation, but the beef is very tender and the lush sauce has some sparks. Entrecote Bordelaise, or a broiled shell steak with red wine sauce, is blunt and true. Grilled lamb chops spiked with garlic and parsley are equally memorable.
Apart from the frogs' legs, the aquatic really isn't La Baraka's hallmark. You could try the sauteed trout with almonds or the shrimps sauteed with garlic. But it will take some doing to pass by the sturdier stuff.
At lunch, many of the dinner entrees are offered. You can pick a croque monsieur or an omelet, too.
For dessert day and night, there are profiteroles, pastry puffs here filled with ice cream and capped with chocolate sauce; a wobbly creme caramel; the poached pear with ice cream and chocolate sauce; or any of the fruit tarts. Heretics: cheesecake.
And La Baraka has respectable chocolate mousse. DeGaulle would have approved.
Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti