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[whitespace] Karen and Jeff Breslow
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Restaurant Row Phoenix: Le Mouton Noir owners Karen and Jeff Breslow are back in business at their recently reopened restaurant on Big Basin Way.

The Lap of Luxury

Saratoga's recently reopened Le Mouton Noir makes a statement of high-end dining expectations and luxury ambiance

By Christina Waters

RECENTLY REOPENED after a kitchen fire closed its doors for half a year, Saratoga's Le Mouton Noir beckoned on a balmy evening last week. And we accepted the gracious invitation to enjoy romantic seating on the outdoor patio, a great spot to view the lively street scene as well as the packed indoor dining rooms. A new carpet and bar are the main renovating touches, plus a new autumn menu from chef Deane Bussiere, who is clearly devoted to local organic and seasonal ingredients.

We began with a split of Qupé Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, 1997 ($26) and some warm rolls presented to us from a big basket by a strolling roll person. Deciding to bypass the chef's tasting menus, we wrestled with options before deciding on an appetizer of smoked trout crepes (actually it was only one small crepe; $10) and a salad of Maine lobster claws ($18). I decided against the "Ceasar" salad and was similarly amused by other menu typos like "white truffle triangels." The fall season always inclines me toward game, so the evening's special venison tenderloin (which turned out to be priced at $36) was appealing, as was an order of seared sea scallops with Grand Marnier sauce ($28).

The Qupé Syrah was, as always, an elegantly structured concentrate of pepper, leather and berries. And an amuse bouche of heirloom tomato gazpacho in tiny demitasse cups was a welcoming and richly flavored touch. We wished for a lot less of the booming operatic music that was too overbearing for the intimate decor.

A single slender crepe arrived on a plate squiggled with crème fraîche and a few wisps of chives and peppers. The melted, creamy chèvre inside completely masked any flavor of smoked trout. My salad of Maine lobster claws was similarly underwhelming, though more costly. There was nothing special about this dish of a few choice morsels of moist lobster placed around three infant artichokes and a mound of very nice lettuces in a jarring truffle oil and tarragon vinaigrette. It should have charmed. It could have delighted. It was very ordinary. Three nice ingredients with no harmony whatsoever.

Hoping for more from our entrees, we enjoyed the syrah. Jack's venison was a vibrant creation of rare tenderloin slices fanned around a spiral turban of mashed potato. Under the rich venison was a layer of sautéed lobster mushrooms spiked with what tasted like juniper berries and horseradish, a classic accompaniment to this game dish. A few sprigs of fresh watercress crowned the potatoes like an emerald flag. Pretty touch. And given the moderate portion size, it's clear that the kitchen leans toward nouvelle rather than gargantuan American presentation.

My six small sea scallops were slightly overgrilled but still quite tasty. The scallops sat on a tiny mound of baby chard centered with a tower of dry, browned Duchess potatoes. The citrusy edge of Grand Marnier perfumed each bite. Again, this dish was attractive and the flavors were, on the whole, fine. But for the high price it was a small portion and undistinguished in concept. There's no excuse for dry potatoes. Period.

We finished up every bite of the delicious venison and especially liked the way the chef had arranged crisp sugar peas in a small crown around the base of the creamy mashed potatoes.

There was another long wait for our server to return with dessert menus. Bypassing crème brûlee, assorted gelatos, a fussy chocolate concoction and--gasp--even Baked Alaska, we chose an heirloom Pink Pearl apple tarte tatin ($8), which arrived with a beautiful triangle of pumpkin seed praline and a strident praline gelato. The apples were warm and wonderful, but the "tatin" amounted to a tiny circle of crust sitting under the apple wedges. Perhaps the kitchen should label this one "tart" and let it go at that.

Excellent smooth-as-silk dark chocolate truffles accompanied the tab for our dinner. We left feeling that for the money and time invested, service needed fine-tuning and the overall culinary concept would improve by simplifying. A less self-conscious mood overall would better complement chef Bussiere's handiwork.

Le Mouton Noir
Address: 14560 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Phone: 408.867.7017
Extras: Lunch during holidays and for prearranged large parties
Entrees: $18-$36
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 5:30-9:30pm, Sun. 5-9pm

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From the November 4-10, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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