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Photograph by Pete Shea
heaven's plate: The bread pudding at Ma Maison made a believer out of this reviewer.

French Accent

Ma Maison's ambience and a memorable dessert work their magic.

By Christina Waters

Mousse, paté, French onion soup--Ma Maison's dinner menu brings on the Gallic temptation and then proceeds to deliver the goods. The pairing of chef Lionel Le Morvan's authentic continental cuisine and one of the prettiest restaurants in the county tends to place Ma Maison on most diners' short list of favorites. Before I revisit our meal at Ma Maison, I need to pause and emphasize one very important tasting point: this is not the place to neglect dessert. Au contraire! At the end of our meal, we shared a pastry creation so utterly accomplished, elegant and decadently comforting, that I only regretted not ordering two of them. But I digress.

Ma Maison had two private parties going full tilt the night of our visit. Both the main dining room, as well as the cozy private banquet room, were hosting groups, a savvy way of maintaining the bottom line. So Ann and I were shown to a table in the pale green interior dining alcove--intimate, attractively lined with handsome oil paintings and perfect for conversation. "I feel as if we are naughty children forced to sit in the back room," Ann joked. But we both immediately warmed to the atmosphere, which was enhanced by attentive service and very satisfying continental cuisine.In a better world, there would be a rustic, expertly made pâté maison on every single restaurant menu. But at least there is at Ma Maison--a rustically composed appetizer pâté of pork, duck and spiced Armagnac presented with mustard and cornichons ($9). A generous basket of thin-sliced francese toast was provided--very nice with the pâté--along with a pungent garlic-and-chive-inflected composed butter.

Another appetizer of mâche salad ($9), was adorned with endives, sliced beets and a few (unnecessary) slices of tomato in a beet and hazelnut vinaigrette. The delicious salad was topped generously with julienne-style vegetables--carrots, jicama, zucchini--all of which provided crisp texture and even more pretty hues. Ann and I found the salad mild-tasting, but lovely and fresh.

My entree of coquilles Saint Jacques ($25) was excellent. Four colossal wild sea scallops, perfectly sautéed just to the almost al dente stage, were sauced with one of those impossibly light-yet-rich cream sauces that only a master can manage. In this case, morels added earthy flavor depth. Perfect haricots verts accompanied, as did one of those very large, dramatic French rosettes of whipped potatoes, everything lightly dusted with a dice of parsley and garlic chives. Ann's order of filet de canard ($24) was presented with the rare duck breast fanned out across a pool of blueberry balsamic sauce and dotted with plump berries. It, too, came with an abundance of haricots verts and the same pretty, if formal, rosette of whipped potatoes topped with an infant carrot. The blueberry and balsamic flavors were the perfect foil for the duck, yet some central connective depth--demi-glace? stock?--seemed missing.

Dessert of warm bread pudding ($7) was a charming surprise. Light years from what the phrase "bread pudding" usually conjures, this voluptuous dish was light, multilayered and just plain fabulous. The reason? Well, miles of technique, for one thing. But the other was that this creation was fashioned from croissants. All the golden layers were gently bound with a Grand Marnier-spiked crème anglaise--a sensational choice. More of the classic crème anglaise filled the entire plate, adding an orange top note to accompanying strawberries and mint leaves. The warm, custardy tangle of croissant was perfumed throughout by a microzest of fresh orange peel and adorned on top by a light sifting of powdered sugar. We ate every trace. A destination dessert with a rich French accent.

Ma Maison

Address: 9051 Soquel Drive, Aptos

Phone: 831.688.5566

Hours: Open 11:30am-2pm Tue-Fri and 5:30-9pm Tue-Sun; closed Monday

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