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A bit of the French countryside transported to a side street in Boca Raton

Le Rivage after dark on NE 20th St.

Le Rivage resembles an auberge, a French country inn, and serves old-school French dishes, some of them rarely seen on many modern menus.

While dining in the quiet, pretty country-style dining room of Le Rivage in Boca Raton, the opening lyrics to “Dancing Check to Cheek,” an old Irving Berlin song made popular by Fred Astaire, popped into my head. “Heaven, I’m in heaven.”

Indeed, it felt that way. Here in a strip center on a side street off of Federal Highway near Mizner Park, I was happily dining on classic French cuisine, eaves -dropping as a guest conversed with a server in French. I felt as if I had been transported to France.

Le Rivage’s dining room

Outside, owner Paul Collange,sitting beside the front door smoking a cigarette, welcomed me. Inside, tuxedoed servers, almost all women, bustled about, seating and serving guests in a Gallic scene. Gold-framed copies of Impressionist paintings hang on the white, arched walls. There are mirrors and brass light sconces throughout the space. On each empty table napkins are folded into fans and a carnation sits in a tiny vase.

It’s not just the décor that transports you across the Atlantic. It’s also the cuisine created by Collange, who worked in Cannes at Le Festival, Hotel Martinez Concorde and the famous Carlton Hotel. He arrived in Boca Raton in1984, where he worked the stoves at Chez Marcel and later was chef and partner at Marcel’s French Restaurant. He opened Le Rivage in December 2005. At the stoves is chef de cuisine Steven Levine, who hails from New York City.

Munch on some crusty bread while perusing the menu, sort of a greatest hits collection of French culinary traditions. Actually, there were three menus, the a la carte, a four-course prix fixe menu at $37, and a three-course summer menu at $30.

The wine list, a one-page affair, is respectable and largely focused on wines from various French appellations, some of them at modest 1.5 times markups. I sipped a glass of Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc, a bargain with mineral and floral notes at just $9.

Vichyssoise

French onion soup

It might be difficult to choose from among the many menu offerings, but after a quick review, I knew I had to have chilled Vichyssoise as my appetizer and veal sweetbreads in a Port wine sauce for my entrée. My wife, as expected, opted for the French onion soup as a starter and a roasted half duck with cherry sauce as her main.

Sweetbreads

Roast duck

The chilled Vichyssoise was rich and creamy, accented with a sprinkle of chopped leeks, with a definite potato flavor. Oh, the assent to heaven had begun.

The dark brown, rich onion soup suggested it had undergone a long, slow simmer with the onions transformed into delightful, caramelized slivers beneath a crispy dome of thick crouton and cheese that has crusted over and has run down the sides of the crock.

The half duck was nicely roasted with a delicious French bigarade (Cherry) sauce served on the side in a silver gravy boat.

But for me, the pièce de résistance was the sweetbreads, the culinary term for organ meat from the thymus gland and pancreas. It’s a menu rarity these days. Here, they were perfect, crispy on the outside, mildly flavored, soft and creamy on the inside and bathed in a rich wine sauce. Creamed spinach accented with nutmeg, served on the side, neither added nor subtracted from my dining pleasure.

Chocolate mousse

Floating island

Choosing a dessert – included in the prix-fixe menu – was also a difficult choice with a dozen options. My wife opted for the chocolate mousse over the crème brulee, both her favorites.

I, on the other hand, opted for the floating island- a long-forgotten classic, a cloud of meringue afloat on luscious crème anglais vanilla custard. It was a perfect finish for a classic French dinner.

Prices here are relative bargains compared with other nearby eateries. Perhaps the rent for Le Rivage’s out-of-the-way location factors in. But the real reason to dine here is the chance to be taken back in time (menu wise) and transported metaphysically to the French countryside, or in my mind, to a bit of heaven.

Le Rivage 

450 NE 20th St., Boca Raton, FL 33431

(561) 620-0033

http://restaurantlerivage.com

 

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