Salé Sucré: A Francophile's Haven in ihe Heights

I wish I spoke better French. Five years of study in high school plus a few trips to francophonic locales meant at one time I was fairly proficient. Now, my accent sounds like Chevy Chase in European Vacation and my vocab is spotty.

My declining French doesn't particularly bother me except when I go to good French restaurants. Butchering the pronunciation of menu items seems like such a disservice to the chef and his French-speaking staff. "I just loved that crêpe," I imagine, sounds to them like "I just loved that crap." Sigh. Well, I hope they know I mean what I say even if I don't necessarily say what I mean. So, Salé Sucré, please know I did love that crêpe. And the tartare. And the escargot. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On a balmy Wednesday night, Salé Sucré was bustling, suggesting the allure of their delicate French dishes trumps any heat-induced malaise and/or laziness. The dining room, adorned with rotating pieces from local artists and fitted with hand-painted tables, is dressed up but not dressy. This characterization extends to the food, which is fine but not fussy, polished but not pretentious.

Convention would dictate that I start with a glass of wine (paired accordingly with my appetizer), but I opted instead for the Montparnasse, one of their handful of original house cocktails. A sunny mixture of apple brandy, lemon juice, St. Germain, and sauvignon blanc, it seemed to glow on the table. It tasted like a garden in late spring, lusty notes of citrus intersecting with headier herb flavors.

Was it fate that it wonderfully complemented my appetizer? No, probably just dumb luck since I was absolutely set on ordering the escargot and would have done so even if I was sipping a Pepsi. Critical evaluations of escargot always seem to set the bar pretty low; "it wasn't rubbery" is often the highest compliment. The snails at Salé Sucré were hands down the best I have ever had. I almost took for granted the incredibly supple, silky texture because I was too busy savoring the parsley butter sauce with some secret earthy ingredient I have yet to identify. Their serving dish, a charmingly mismatched mini Le Creuset, made the presentation positively delightful, and that's not a word I use often with regards to gastropods.

If given the opportunity, I would have nixed my entree for a regular-size casserole dish of even more snails (mental note: request in advance for next visit). Since variety is the spice of life, it's probably a good thing my Crêpe St. Jacques followed soon after. The fluffy egg pancake left little to be desired and the béchamel sauce was rich but not cloying. And though the scallops were under-sized (Salé Sucré may want shell out for another supplier), the large portion meant the crêpe was still pleasantly plump with filling.

Portions were also generous in the case of the steak tartare, whose accoutrements (egg, potato, herbs, salad, bread) benefited from a neat compartmental arrangements on the platter. The tartare was technically my husband's entree, but Texas is a community property state and I interpret the law to mean I am totally justified in trespassing onto his plate to obtain my share of the entree. One scoop was all I needed to see that the tartare was impressive in terms of seasoning as well as size. Many restaurants rely too heavily on salt and pepper (perhaps to take the edge off the reality you're eating raw beef), a move that unfortunately ends up masking the true flavor of the meat as well as the other vegetables and spices. Not so at Salé Sucré, whose tartare shines due to subtle tastes of capers, garlic, and onions.

If I put off visiting Salé Sucré again until my French significantly improves, I'll be waiting a long, long time. I can't stand the thought of not eating their snails a few more times this year, so maybe I'll just perfect my pronunciation of escargot and flash a bashful smile.