Don’t get me wrong. I adore several French products, like Fleur de sel (best salt in the world) and the cheeses, yogurts and baguettes I tried when I visited Erin in Paris. But here in the states I don’t really ever long for French food or seek it out.
(Well, there is this one place. I really enjoy Coquette, the bistro across the street from my office.)
But after lunch last weekend at Williamsburg, Virginia’s Le Yaca Restaurant Francais I better understand the appeal of classic French dining.
I only chose it as a lunch destination because it was Mother’s Day weekend and my mom is a Francophile. Also, it’s very highly rated by Yelpers, Chowhounds and every other source I checked.
Le Yaca is most definitely a standout among Williamsburg’s odd mixture of pancake houses, chain restaurants and overpriced-for-the-more-well-heeled-tourists finer dining establishments. It’s been in operation for 32 years and frequented primarily by locals.
Actually, unless they read about it somewhere a tourist would never just stumble upon Le Yaca — it’s located in the middle of a funky old outdoor, ghost town-like shopping center that was probably once very charming but is in dire need of updating. It’s not in a trendy part of town, and has no visibility at all from the street. In fact, walking to it from the parking lot is like navigating a mini-maze.
The ambience is fancy/homey, if that makes sense. Warm and inviting, yet at the same time made me want to use my very best manners. The friendly, accented “Bon jour!” that greeted me on the phone, the gracious service by our young and handsome French waiter and a lovely bottle of wine also contributed to the overall Frenchy-ness.
But it was mostly, of course, the food that pleased.
Starting with the bread. Oh, that baguette! Served warm with a heavenly aroma wafting up, the taste and texture were truly perfect (which is not easy to achieve nor find on this side of the pond).
It’s difficult to describe the texture of an excellent baguette. Light and a bit flaky, yet not too delicate, on the outside. Soft, but not too much so, on the inside. Once you experience it, you’ll know. Anyway, Le Yaca’s was the best I’ve had outside of Paris.
I was also delighted by my onion soup starter.
Le Yaca served it pureed, with a sprinkling of finely grated cheese and several small croutons floating on top. It wasn’t very pretty to look at, but the taste was scrumptious (exactly the same as the more traditional preparation) and it was a heck of a lot easier to eat. So clever! Why hasn’t every other French restaurant gone this route?
My main was a delicately pan-seared sea bass fillet served on top of wilted spinach and drizzled with a champagne sauce. As you can see from the photo, the profiterole was a bit larger than most! Both were very, very tasty indeed. But I would have been completely sated if all I’d had was the bread and soup — they were that good.
Bread. Soup. It’s the simple things — if they’re well done.
Perhaps I was a peasant in a prior life …