Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Café de France
Chicken foccacia $5.99
Shrimp champignon $11.99
Chicken Normandie $7.99
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Freedom Cuisine

Hopscotch around the globe at Café de France.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

Café de France

322 Lincoln Square, Arlington. 817-261-1777. Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 8am-4pm. All major credit cards and personal checks accepted.

he French have been taking it on the chin ever since all that jingoistic “cheese-eating surrender monkey” nonsense started earlier this year. Say what you will about a country that forces its citizens to start smoking Gauloises and drinking wine at age eight. At least their Ministry of Culture had the good sense to award Iggy Pop the title “Officer of Arts and Letters.” (If Voltaire and Rousseau were here, would they be turning in their graves? Or enjoying a good giggle?) The anti-French backlash has even extended into the culinary sphere — freedom fries, anyone? Or, uh, freedom toast?

This being “dump on the French year,” it seemed a good time to check out Café de France, a cozy little bistro situated on the I-30 side of Arlington’s Lincoln Square, tucked (both physically and metaphorically) in between Ann Taylor Loft and the Coffee Haus. What it’s not: Le Madeleine light. Café de France has none of Le Mad’s faux-rustic clutter. Its bright lights and gleaming surfaces befit its mall setting.

It soon became apparent that Café de France’s fare isn’t strictly French. Rather, it’s an eclectic mix of French, Italian, and American cooking. As the café is primarily a breakfast and lunch joint, the offerings are heavy on omelets, sandwiches, and pasta. The French accent comes primarily from the croissants that serve as the foundation for most of the sandwiches (including the burgers), and from the butter-and-cream-based sauces that accompany some of the shrimp and chicken dishes.

My guest had spent the previous evening “trying to put Red Lobster out of business” with an extremely ambitious — five pounds’ worth — visit on all-you-can-eat crab claw night, while I’d spent the last month subsisting primarily on free happy-hour food and peanut butter sandwiches (while watching The Restaurant on tv). We were both in the mood for something hearty. He started his meal with a serviceable tomato-based chicken and vegetable soup, while I opted for the garden salad — a mountain of crisp, fresh greens, topped with a creamy, tart Caesar dressing. (On examining our bill, I was delighted to discover that the prices of the soup and salad were included with our entrées.)

Café de France offers a range of pasta dishes, which are available with either alfredo or marinara sauces. My guest and I decided to go for the most “French” options we could find. He opted for the chicken Normandie, which proved to be a chicken breast tender enough to cut with a fork, unlike the rubbery slabs we’ve gotten used to. The dish was an agreeable medley of flavors and textures. The lemon cream butter sauce, caramelized onions, and mushrooms combined tangy, sweet, and earthy flavors, while the topping of toasted almonds added some crunch.

I chose the shrimp champignon, a generous dozen shrimp, sautéed in garlic butter, served with the same linguine as the chicken. The accompanying mushroom champagne sauce was a subtle blend of flavors that complemented but didn’t overwhelm the flavor of the shrimp. The big surprise was the steamed vegetables that accompanied both entrées, minus any sauces or seasonings. The green beans, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli were fresh and crisp, their unadorned natural flavors still discernable — a refreshing change from the obviously canned or frozen vegetables found in so many restaurants. My guest and I could feel ourselves breaking out in health as we devoured them.

In a way, the best was saved for last. I took home a chicken foccacia sandwich for the teen-ager at home. We shared the sandwich as a late-night snack. She declared the foccacia bread “herbalicious” and was impressed by the breaded chicken breast’s moistness and tenderness, even when reheated. Equally flavorful were the crunchy onions and sautéed mushrooms and the melted provolone that covered everything like a warm blanket. While all of Café de France’s cold sandwiches came with chips, this robust rascal of a sandwich was accompanied by a heaping helping of — yes — French fries.

Café de France has a full range of coffee drinks available, which causes one to wonder why these good folks picked the location they did (remember, right next door to the Coffee Haus). And perhaps “Café d’Italie” would have been a more accurate moniker, judging by the preponderance of pasta dishes. On balance, though, all but the most rabid Francophobes should be able to find something to love there.


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