Thursday 7 June 2007

Ill-Conceived French Quarter Aims for Gulf Coast But Comes Up With Hamptons-Lite

French Quarter
1920 14th Ave
Vero Beach, FL USA 32960
(772) 770-4870

Where is it?

A bit tricky. From the parking lot, head through the outdoor dining room and into the restaurant's interior, where you'll step into a bar area that doubles as a wine cellar. Head towards the bar (rear of the place), then turn right at the first passage way, which leads to the dining room. Just as you pass through, though, take an immediate left and head down the hallway there. The bathrooms are at the very end of that hallway.

What's it like?

This stylishly designed restaurant aims to capture the pulse of Florida's Gulf Coast cuisine, primarily the Panhandle area in the northern part of the state. However, one look inside, or at the menu, and you'll see that the real focus here is on New Orleans' culture and cuisine -- (heck, the name alone gives that away). While that gives the place some ambitious, if not admirable, goals, it ends up backfiring in the end as the eatery ends up trying too hard to capture both personalities without quite hitting the mark on either. Broiled grouper, a Florida standard (both on the Gulf Coast and on the Atlantic Coast), came out dry and tasteless. A bouliabaise filled with Gulf-based seafood was lifeless and held too many vegetables and too little seafood.

The bathrooms offer similar set backs. Yes, they're clean, tidy, cozy and peaceful (especially with their isolated locale) , and they try to capture the nautical spirit of Florida's Gulf coast (the interior mimicks that of a boat's bathroom, and pictures of yachts line the walls here). However, the the wood-lined walls and middle-of-the-road color scheme screams Hamptons wannabe, not Panama City mainstay.

Give the restaurant credit. At least it's trying something. However the execution of those ambitions don't quite work. One gets the impression that if the chef focused more on making the food and decor simpler, the food and atmosphere would really shine. As it is, it just seems like an attempt to stay fashionable, nothing else. All style and no substance, if you will.

Marks out of 10:

6. I can tell you're trying hard here, but it just didn't work. Sorry.

Comments to the Management:

Like the rest of your menu, you may need to refocus and regroup here -- and when in doubt, keep it simple.


Anonymous said...

I was the Sous Chef at The French Quarter. I really dont think ur palat is defined enough for the food they offer there. The owner has had 16 successful restaurants in Floirda so I believe he knows what he is doing.

Eyal said...

First of all, I should point out that most of the judgments made on this blog refer to the experience we had while visiting the bathroom of a given place, not the food. Our thoughts on our meal-time experience simply extend our toilet reviews, nothing more. But still, I feel our opinions have some validity.

Secondly, I don't think you need a defined palette to know that grouper is overcooked or that bouillabaisse shouldn't have more starchy vegetables than seafood. I have had both dishes several times at other restaurants I’ve visited and have found them more pleasing to my palette there, so I can certainly cite that as evidence for my palette’s definition. (I was also former food critic in a city with a far superior dining scene than Vero, so I think that plays a part too.)

Thirdly, I do not deny the success the owner has experienced with his restaurants. I have been to three of his other restaurants and have enjoyed them all more than this one.

Fourthly, as even the most steady-handed of owners will tell you, and as I’m sure you know, being a Sous Chef, cooks have off-nights now and then, and I imagine this was one of them. Perhaps there were too many people there and the line got so backed up that they couldn’t watch all the dishes as attentively as they could have.

Then again, people I've talked to, who have gone there after my visit, have expressed mixed feelings about the place as well, some lauding it and some sharing my sentiments. So perhaps there is some truth in my observations after all?

Thanks for your input and opinion.