Dining out: Fabulous French fare? Fly over to Cafe Bretton

Have you ever noticed how the same plot lines keep turning up on TV?

One recurring theme involves a main character who can't afford to take a vacation, but holes up at home (with blinds drawn, sunlamp, etc.) and pretends to take one.

If the idea of pretending to have taken a French vacation appeals to you, take a selfie or two in front of Café Bretton and send them to friends with a message saying "Greetings from la belle France!"

Once you enter the restaurant, you'll quickly learn that the exterior trappings are not the only quaint and bona fide hints of France you'll find. Having traveled extensively in the French countryside, I can attest to the authenticity of the auberge vibe here.

With seven people in our party (more tastes of more things!), we had been allotted our own corner of the upper dining room, by the fireplace, and settled in to check out the menu. We quickly settled on starters, as one diner had mentioned on the way into the restaurant, "I hope they have escargots!"

They did indeed, and we ordered two portions ($14 each) so everyone could have a generous sample. They were everything you'd hope — tender, buttery, wine-y, and garlicky. A subtle complement of herbs delivered perfection.

After we had dispatched the gorgeous gastropods, we unabashedly soaked up the sauce with some of Café Bretton's tasty bread.

Also chiming in with a flawless French accent were the Coquilles St. Jacques ($14), a classic rendition that surrounded the succulent scallops with a sauce incorporating wine, butter, cream, and cheese. Formidable.

Our main course orders were tantamount to a mid-term culinary exam as we chose beef, duck, lamb, veal, seafood, and pasta. Based on the sighs, the praise, and the clean plates, the grade on that test was A+.

The diner who selected beef ordered it in the form of the half portion Boeuf Bourguignon ($14). The beef was tender and very flavorful, accompanied by estimable mashed potatoes and haricots vert.

Lamb Lollipops ($18) featured a liberal serving of expertly trimmed mini-lamb chops, also characterized by the utmost tenderness and flavor. Presentation of this dish (similarly accompanied by mashed potatoes and haricots vert) received high marks as well.

If you were limited to just one dish at Café Bretton, you might want to consider the Duck Breast Victor ($28). Anyone who knows his or her way around a kitchen knows how difficult it is to prepare duck, with outcomes tending toward dryness and chewiness despite one's best efforts.

Chef Victor aces this eponymous masterpiece, offering duck breast that is moist and delectable. Prepared with blackberries, port wine, and rosemary, the dish is served with a mixture of brown and wild rice. Outstanding.

Another amazing main course always worthy of your consideration at Café Bretton is the Veal Streudel ($13) constructed with ground veal, mushrooms, and shallots in a cream sauce served in puff pastry with an excellent Béarnaise sauce.

Vegetarians would enjoy the inventive Fiocci Pasta ($13) featuring a sauce including pears, ricotta cheese, porcini mushrooms in a Gorgonzola cream sauce. The wow factor definitely in evidence here.

The final two members of our party opted for seafood, one with the delicious Stuffed Shrimp ($34) and the other with Sea Scallops a la Crème ($29). The former included lots of crab and the latter included shiitake mushrooms and a shallot cream sauce. Both dishes were accompanied with the brown and wild rice medley.

Many of the desserts at Café Bretton are supplied by Baltimore's highly regarded Patisserie Poupon, but you can't go wrong with the restaurant's house-made Crème Brulee ($9.50).

At the conclusion of this most recent visit to Café Bretton, we commented that all seven of us had really liked every morsel of food that had been served to us. Not often is one able to say that. Pretty much the only thing "off" at Café Bretton is the incorrect spelling of Breton.

The food was outstanding (let the kitchen know if you need to have accommodations made in terms of vegetarian or gluten-free meals) and the service was friendly and efficient (perhaps a bit of re-training in the area of wine service — present a taste upon opening the bottle and refill glasses promptly).

It was a memorable dining experience for all — at the beginning of the evening, a one long-time fan and six novices entered, but at the end? Seven enthusiastic devotees walked out into the cold winter air.

Everyone has been looking forward to spring, but at the highly Zagat-rated Café Bretton, there's yet another reason for doing that. Chef Victor doesn't just transition to a seasonal menu, he plans it to capitalize on the fresh herbs and organic vegetables that he grows in the beautiful back garden.

For seventeen years, Severna Parkers and other devoted area fans have been enjoying the excellent fare from chef Victor's kitchen. Is the food a bit pricey? Maybe. But it's most assuredly cheaper than a trip to France.

A FINAL NOTE: Restaurant patrons' preferences are widely diverse. Some like upscale, some like casual.

A few like uber-friendly servers, but most are of the I'm-not-looking-for-a-new-best-friend mindset. A plethora of differing likes and dislikes.

One thing that annoys everyone? Drink menus with no prices listed and oral recitations of specials with no prices mentioned.

Why, then, do some restaurateurs persist with these unpopular tactics? One would wonder.

Terra Walters is a freelance writer and editor based in Annapolis.

WHEN YOU GO

WHAT: Café Bretton.

WHERE: 849 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park.

PHONE: 410-647-8222.

WEBSITE: http://www.cafe-bretton.com.

HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

EXECUTIVE CHEF: Victor Ledezma.

FIRST COURSES: $6 to $16.

MAIN COURSES: $19 to $31.

RESERVATIONS: Accepted, but walk-ins are welcome and every effort will be made to accommodate them.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards accepted.

ACCESSIBILITY: Yes.

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