Until last night, I was shamefully ignorant to the tragic history of Violette restaurant. The short of the long is that proprietor Guy Long, a native of Alsace-Lorraine, came to the United States after his mother passed. In 1989, he met Stephanie Belcher and from that that meeting, a relationship flourished. Eventually, the two became both business partners and engaged to be married.
In 1995, the couple opened Violette on Clairmont Rd. Eight years later, a series of crimes left Luck dead, Belcher alone, and the restaurant in an awkward place [More reading on CL]. Five-years later, Belcher runs the show and the restaurant is alive and kicking. From what I understand, Belcher employs a head chef; and while the food was a disappointment, my hat is off to Ms. Belcher. More after the jump!
Violette occupies a free standing building that sits just off I-85. Immediately upon entering the restaurant, you find yourself in between the maître d‘ stand and the bar. The deep woods, handful of bar high-tops, and the abundance of smiling staff members immediately diffused any pre-conceived notions I had. While the French often serve up a somewhat over the top experience, they are also known for the café style restaurants that are as much a part of French culture as is the Musée du Louvre (or more simply the Louvre to all us local folk).
While I was actually hoping for a somewhat garish experience [Hey … over the top can be fun sometimes!], the atmosphere and décor are anything but that. The walls are painted a deep blue and a handful of paintings, posters, and the like hang from them. I found the collection thematically challenged; but, let’s be honest: we weren’t there for the art work.
All in, I would guestimate that the restaurant seats about 75-90 people. The dining room runs the length of the building and a set of doors essentially bisects the space. The restaurant was fairly business last night. The back room was taken over by a group from the CDC that included both young pups and old guard higher-ups. We were seated amongst five other filled tables. As those tables were filled with Baby Boomers and Generation X members, I would venture to guess this place does not ever have much a “scene.” That is by no means a knock on the restaurant; rather, I think it is just good to know stuff.
I was a bit taken back by the laminated pink note card that I saw sitting defiantly upright on each table. The cards were used to advertise the Sunday brunch that is available. While this is not something that would alter my rating, a restaurant with this price point should really leave that type of guerilla marketing to the TGIFs of the world. Okay, let’s dispense with the supplementary information and move on to the goods: the cuisine.
We started the evening with some wine and UNBELIEVABLE liverwurst at my place (thanks PATAK!), it was nice enough of Laura to indulge me – we got two appetizers. Our waiter, who was top notch throughout the evening, promptly took our appetizer order.
Laura picked the porc rillette (distant cousin to pâté) with toast, dijon mustard, and cornichons (aka gherkin aka little pickled cucumbers); I opted for the pommes de terre à l’alsacienne (taters with a creamy dill sauce). To accompany the meal, Laura picked out some wine from Côtes du Rhône. Tasty!
Soon thereafter, Laura and I realized the error of our ways. Our server showed up with two massive plates. I eyeballed other app orders throughout the night and it is abundantly clear that their appetizers are FREAKIN HUGE!!!
As for the quality … eh, what a bummer. The porc rillette had a very distinct flavor to it, but did not impress either of us. After the liverwurst at my pad, we were probably asking a little too much. My palate is not advanced enough to pick out all the flavors; that said, I THINK there was some chervil in addition to parsley, and kosher salt. There might have been some other ingredients as well, but that’s just my swag. The accompanying goods were really not good. I was very disappointed in the toast.
The taters were solid but nothing to write home about. They were served in cubed form and not undercooked. I admittedly love super extra crispy potatoes; but, I can still appreciate a dish that does not cater to my idiosyncrasy. The accompanying dill sauce was suitable; however, Laura found it particularly tasty the more she tried it. I would have appreciated something a little more dynamic, perhaps galettes would have satisfied. Much like my distaste for the toast, something about the dish was truly amiss, and I did not realize what was bothering me until our main courses arrived.
We had sufficient time to finish our appetizers; however, the combination of size and quality lead us to believe we should pace ourselves. So away went the appetizers and in their place came two decent sized entrées. We each ordered with the other in mind as the opportunity to taste multiple dishes is fun and helps me get a feel for the food. I ordered filet d’Agneau au romarin (Grilled lamb loin with rosemary garlic jus) and Laura had the crevettes et Coquilles St. Jacques aux pistaches (sautéed shrimp and scallops in a pistachio pesto sauce). Each dish underwhelmed our taste buds.
The lamb was properly cooked as I requested medium-rare. It was nice to see an understanding of that, as too many restaurants get by with no idea how to evaluate cooking temperatures. Unfortunately, it was sufficiently bland. Rosemary and garlic are an excellent accompaniment to lamb; although, I had a difficult time detecting any sense of those flavors in the meat. The lamb came with a side of mashed potatoes and vegetables. Although neither worked for me, nothing about either side dish was particularly off-putting. The mashed potatoes were a bit lumpy, a technique I am indifferent to.
Next up was the seafood dish. The shrimp were pitiful if you compare them to the Gulf Shrimp I ate during my trip to Serpas and the scallops were not much better. The pistachio pesto sauce was over used and odd. The amount of pesto used made it nearly impossible to detect any hints of the pistachios. The addition of rice and vegetables to the dish didn’t help. About this time, something that was abundantly evident from the very beginning finally decided to coagulate into a coherent thought: this stuff was frozen and low grade.
Everything from the vegetables to the shrimp and lamb spent significant time on ice. The quality of the product used leaves a lot to be desired. The dill sauce was a prime example: there is a chance it was put together in house, but I doubt it. If you start with weak ingredients, you’re going to have weak dishes.
Much like the appetizers, the main courses were fairly large in size. We at about half of each dish and decided to call it a night. Then the thought of desert inched its way into the conversation and low and behold – we had an order of bread pudding in front of us. It was top notch. The soft texture and moistness worked perfectly with the orange and cranberry flavors. The sauce was perfect, not too sweet, and not overused (unlike the pesto sauce that drowned the seafood earlier). The strawberry toppings and the vanilla ice cream made the desert a real pleasure. My biggest complaint: the ice cream was not homemade.
A number of people have said this restaurant is particularly romantic. I am not so sure that the atmosphere screams romance. I suspect that people have labeled it as such due to its’ culinary origins. Given the type of problems we had with the meal, I am inclined to say our meal was not out of the ordinary for Violette. Between two glasses of wine, two apps, two mains, and the desert – our bill came in at $95 before tip. Given the quality of the food, I it would be great to see Violette knock that down by 25-40%. Ideally, I would like to see them deliver smaller portions with higher quality ingredients. Nothing made me run for the hills, and the desert was good enough that this is likely a great spot to drop in on for just that. I commend Belcher for what she is doing and can only hope that some changes are made to bring this place up to snuff.