Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tower Chow

Thanks to the Undercurrent who published my most recent rambling!

I live in a city laden with taquerias, Starbucks, and deal-busting grocery stores. Food is prolific and for the most part pretty cheap. When the pendulum swings in Fresno, it tends to be towards high-end “fusion”, disguising yet another steak house and $12 martini format. In Rousseau I’ve found the middle ground I crave.

The first night I wandered up to the wine bar (now with full liquor privileges) and dined on pâté served with gherkin, Dijon mustard, and grilled crostini. Round two was an ultra simple, perfectly dressed Cesar salad (equipped with the necessary funk of garlic and anchovy) and finally a bowl of onion soup. Cliché? Maybe… But it’s hard to improve upon a ramekin filled with hot beef broth, onions, soggy bread, and smothered in Gruyère cheese. The food at Rousseau is prepared keeping in mind the French countryside tradition of comfort and simplicity.

The stuffed mushrooms are a perfect primer for dinner, with spinach and nibs of bacon nestled in brown caps. The sautéed spinach has a home-cooked edge to it, wilted in a light olive oil, perfectly salted, with a faint puddle of green juice on the plate. The ragout of pork loin is a lovely dish of peasant food, smothered in a beautifully browned sauce with mushrooms over potatoes. Veal cannelloni are simple, fresh and floated in an uncomplicated pool of bright tomato sauce.

It’s usually about the time your entrée arrives that you are enveloped with periodic whiffs of browning sugar coming off the made to order crème brule. This scent will prime you for the large selection of deserts, one of which I cannot get out of my head, the chocolate pot de crème. Creamy, firm, with a deep brooding, toe curling, chocolate that sticks to your spoon. Unbeatable.

Rousseau is not haute cuisine, nor cutting edge French, but this was the place I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. It’s intimate, casual, and for a moment, if I blur my eyes a bit and have another glass of wine, I can escape into a little corner restaurant somewhere in my imaginary France.

568 E Olive Ave., Fresno