Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Continental menu still survives at Petite Auberge

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 3:43 PM

This is the dining room, but that guy isn't me.
  • Courtesy Petite Auberge
  • This is the dining room, but that guy isn't me.
Every once in a while, I need a break from keeping up with the latest thing in Atlanta. Staying abreast of new restaurants, breakout chefs and the latest food trend is exhilarating but also wearying. Sometimes we all need to kick it old-school. And by old-school, I mean Old World.

So, to celebrate my birthday last week, I indulged a long-held desire to visit Petite Auberge, the antediluvian eatery of indeterminate European origin tucked into a corner of the Toco Hills shopping center. I'd always been curious about Petite Auberge in the same way I'd been intrigued about other upscale restaurants that were already old by the time I moved to Atlanta in the late '80s: The Coach & Six, Hedgerose Heights, Pano & Paul's, South of France, The Abbey and Jim White's Half Shell, to name a few.

Somehow, Petite Auberge has managed to outlive all of those high-falutin' places, and its awning-festooned entrance still suggests the gateway to something grand — or at least grandiose. The missus and I strolled in a little past 8 p.m. last Friday, on the tail end of the dinner rush for what is clearly an early dining clientele.

The small front dining room is decorated in "Early Pretentious," with framed European engravings and an odd streak of vintage Chinoiserie, from faux Ming vases to an intricate wall relief with carp. Overhead is a disconcertingly ancient drop ceiling. The seating is a mix of small tables and circular booths.

A quick look at the menu confirmed my suspicion that Petite Auberge is one of the last remaining Atlanta restaurants specializing in "continental cuisine," that post-WWII amalgam of traditional French-German-Italian dishes prepared with a flourish of swankiness.

Iced vichyssoise. Moules Mariniere. Coquilles St. Jacques. Wiener Schnitzel. Veal Marsala. Bouillabaisse. Chicken Cordon Bleu. Bavarian pork roast. Beef Wellington, for God's sake. There are few places in Atlanta or elsewhere that offer these dishes without a hint of a irony or a post-modern twist. And yet Petite Auberge serves them up straight-faced every night as if catering a "Mad Men" shoot. I wish I could say I sampled a large chunk of the menu, but we ordered the Chateaubriand — a rarely seen cut of beef tenderloin — because, well, where else are we going to get this meaty relic?

First, however, I began with the Escargots "Provencal," simmered in a sherried cream sauce topped with a delicate puff pastry. Quite tasty and rich. The little woman had a Caesar salad she deemed unexceptional. When the Chateaubriand arrived — all two or three pounds of it — it came on a cart brought out by the attentive, black-vested waiter, who proceeded to finish grilling it in a shallow pan over a large flame. Ma femme prefers her meat rare, but I have a perverse taste for char and an aversion to pink steak, so I had to send my portion back to the kitchen for another blast of heat — but that's my problem, not the restaurant's.

The meat was served with the appropriate time-warp sides of glazed carrots, German-style potatoes, a broccoli floret topped with Hollandaise sauce, two stems of asparagus and grilled cherry tomatoes. Oh, and Bearnaise sauce, natch. No detail was overlooked.

For desert, we shared the sherbet meringue, in which a raspberry sherbet was sandwiched between vanilla ice cream and lemon sherbet, bookended by two meringue cookies and surrounded by a vanilla sauce laced with raspberry sauce. Very colorful.

I'm not the most discerning critic, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meal. There were no disappointments but, of course, no revelations, either. When you go to a place like Petite Auberge, you're not looking for surprises. You're coming for traditional, even old-fashioned, dishes prepared competently.

I admit I adore going to Atlanta's few remaining old-school restaurants, mostly for the atmosphere: La Grotta and Alfredo's for traditional Italian; McKinnon's Louisiane, the city's French-Cajun standby; the Colonnade for meat-and-three; and, of course, the most crazily retro joint in the whole city, Dante's Down the Hatch, with its all-fondue menu, nightly jazz combo and a ship — complete with masts and rigging — in the middle of the main dining room.

Frankly, now is a good time to try Petite Auberge if you've never been there. To celebrate Oktoberfest, it's serving a full menu of German specials for the rest of the month.

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