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New Restaurant Brings a Flavor of South France to North County

There is Les Blanchard the restaurateur, and then there is Les Blanchard the restaurant; kindly do not pronounce these names the same way, however. Mr. Blanchard’s name may be spoken in plain American, but if you wish to mention his restaurant, you first must shape your lips into a Gallic purse and then say, in crisp Parisian tones, “Lay Blahn-SHARD.”

Mr. Blanchard is not French, but his chef and menu are, a happy circumstance for those residents of North County who have felt deprived of la haute cuisine since the demise of Mon Ami, La Maison du Lac and La Difference. These three were prominent among the area’s handful of French houses, and their closings left a notable gap in North County’s restaurant roster.

Les Blanchard (the restaurant) amounts to something of a revival for La Difference and La Maison du Lac. It occupies the Fairbanks Ranch Plaza premises that previously housed the former, and employs Remi Terrier, the chef who lent La Maison du Lac much of its charm and fame. This new restaurant’s style is its own, however, and it is a very likable one at that.

The restaurant is an unusually visual. La Difference always was one of the prettiest restaurants in the county, and Les Blanchard has maintained most of the soft, delicate decor, which it glamorizes with a generous use of fresh flowers. Even the butter dishes are centered by a tiny sprig of blossoms.

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Food plays an important role in the overall visual allure; like many restaurants, Les Blanchard displays its colorful home-baked pastries on a table in the center of the dining room. It also, however, displays the evening’s specials on this table, in much the way that Japanese restaurants put sample plates in their front windows. Thus the waiters do not describe the specials so much as show them, thereby taking much of the guesswork out of ordering--but perhaps some of the pleasure as well.

The menu apparently will change with the seasons. The list, titled “June’s Selections,” is decidedly brief. It mentions only two soups, two salads, three appetizers and seven entrees. With the addition of two or three specials, it offers more than enough choice, however, especially since each dish seems quite appealing. This is relatively unelaborate and light French cooking, and the emphasis seems to be on perfectly cooked fish or meat moistened with a distinctive and flavorful sauce. If the menu could be said to have any regional bias, it would be toward the cooking of south and southwest France, since herbs, garlic, peppers and the famous cepes mushrooms appear with some frequency.

Several dishes display so much color that they seem designed to mimic Les Blanchard’s floral arrangements. The salade Nicoise looks almost like an upland pasture, for example, with various bright hues (provided by tomatoes and red peppers) and darker shades (olives and purple-tinged string beans) thrown into relief by the underlying bed of greens. Onion rings, anchovy filets and flaked tuna also garnish this vinaigrette-moistened classic, which makes a light and refreshing prelude to the main event.

Another very colorful dish is the appetizer of pasta in wild mushroom sauce. Red, black, green and yellow noodles mingle in confettied confusion under a voluptuous cloak of pungent cepes mixed with reduced brown stock and butter. A light butter sauce underlies the darker mushroom sauce, making this (especially when the absence of grated cheese is taken into account) a very French pasta indeed.

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Other starter course choices include bouillabaisse, the famous Provencal fish soup; the ubiquitous onion soup; snails baked in puff pastry, finished with a basil and pine nut sauce, and marinated fish in a sharp mustard sauce.

The entree of swordfish in red bell pepper sauce both looks and tastes like the south of France. The sharp, clear flavor of the sauce speaks directly to the taste buds, eschewing any of the subterfuges or subtleties employed by Parisian sauces; the color recalls the fields of carnations that run toward the sea near St. Remy. The fish, a fine steak cut just thick enough, was perfectly cooked, its distinctive flavor a match for the sparkling sauce.

The loin of lamb in a garlic and rosemary-scented brown sauce was less outspoken but equally flavorful, the meat finely roasted to a succulent rareness and a rich finish. A medley of vegetables sprinkled with crisped pine nuts--a handsome touch--garnished the plate.

The relative simplicity of these two dishes is carried out in the rest of the entree selection, which includes breast of duckling in fresh raspberry sauce, veal in a sauce of orange and Port, beef tenderloin with cepes, and sole Grenobloise (with a piquant caper sauce). Another dish that defers to the rainbow, the Norwegian salmon ton sur ton (“tone on tone”), poses the fish over contrasting sauces made from reduced red and white wines.

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Les Blanchard’s dessert list is fine as far as it goes, but is somewhat disappointing when one has sampled the desserts (such as the Bavarian creams) that Remy Terrier produced at La Maison du Lac. Other than a solitary if impressive cheesecake, the selection is limited to classic fruit tarts, a different flavor each day. A tart of fresh apricots layered over pastry cream and a buttery crust was quite agreeable but not remarkable.

LES BLANCHARD 16232 San Dieguito Road, Fairbanks Ranch (in the Fairbanks Village Plaza) 756-2113. Dinner served 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Credit cards accepted Dinner for two, with a modest bottle of wine, tax and tip, $55 to $90


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