French lesson

With Dallas' French cuisine in decline, Chez Gerard offers a survival lesson

French food is the mother of all Western cuisines; the whole vocabulary of Western cuisine is French. The French fries (pommes frites) at Chez Gerard remind you that even the ubiquitous French-fried potato is something to take seriously, if you want to be rewarded. Greaseless but buttery, colored a pure even gold, uniformly cut and dusted with salt, these are the apex of potato.

We ordered an extra side dish of them--I was visiting Chez Gerard with two teenage boys, both blossoming gourmands who spend their spare change on exotic dinners and who were eager to eat French food beyond but of course including French fries.

The food at Chez Gerard is fine and a wonderful French lesson, even if you're already fluent. A classic appetizer of enormous escargots, swimming in garlic butter in a pastry-topped crock, were a textbook example. Chez Gerard is seriously French, serving meats that beef-eating Americans still tend to avoid. Sweetbreads are frequently on the menu, as are veal liver, pigeon, and duck. My dish of rabbit, the tender chunks of meat bound in a rich creamy sauce, was a dish we all kept dipping into long after our hunger was sated, just for the delight of it. But we also had the beef, a sauteed ribeye with a sauce of artichokes and mushrooms, and the rack of lamb, both perfect accompaniments to our perfect pommes frites.

Dessert? Of course--I was eating with teenagers; we had four for three. A fabulous strawberry tart, the fruit gushing flavor over sweetened cream, and two souffles--more fragrant than flavored with Grand Marnier and chocolate--and then, because they seemed insubstantial, a perfectly satin-textured creme caramel, slightly sabotaged by a wimpy watery caramel.

One of these teen companions has signed on to review restaurants for his high school's newspaper, so dinner at Chez Gerard turned out to be the perfect introduction to the delights and pitfalls of the job. Because here's how to best use Chez Gerard: Invest yourself, your time, and your money. Go for lunch or dinner once a week or so for a couple of months, introducing yourself and tipping well each time, everyone from maitre d' on down. Chez Gerard is one of the few French restaurants that has managed to endure in Dallas; even on a recent Monday night, every table was taken. So the crowd might account for the inattentive service we received, but I don't think so. You have to cultivate your relationship with this restaurant to truly enjoy it. At Chez Gerard, it's up to you, not the restaurant. All around me, diners were being greeted by name: They've come here often over the years and have a stake in this place and the restaurant recognizes it. On the other hand, my reservation had been overlooked and our waiter was consistently elusive. I even had to leave my seat to ask for the check. That's the cost of a critic's anonymity.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Chez Gerard, 4444 McKinney Ave., 522-6865. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; for dinner Monday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Chez Gerard:
Escargots en Croute Bourguignonne $6.95
Entrecote Barigoule $15.95
Carre d'Agneau Printaniere $17.95
Tarte Brulee $5

 
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