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By MARK NIXON
For starters, let’s underscore that EnVie is not, and doesn’t claim to be, a French restaurant.
That, fellow diners, is a good thing. How many times, in how many American cities, have I plopped down in restaurants claiming to be authentic French restaurants, but were not? Too many to count. EnVie, on the other hand, calls itself a bistro. A French inspired bistro, I would add.
From what I tasted during two visits, some inspired souls in the kitchen accent the definition of this place. In French, envie means “desire.”
What I desired during our first visit was comfort food. I ordered the meatloaf with a red wine demi-glace. Yeah, yeah, I know. Not very French-y. But, it’s what I wanted on a cold winter’s night.
Like the name suggests, EnVie delivered on my desires.
As it did with Judy’s choice—Duck Benedict. Slices of juicy duck breast were huddled beneath a poached egg, nestled with a croissant and blanketed by a hollandaise sauce gently fragranced by Herbs de Provence.
Accompanied by a California chardonnay, our meals were the perfect antidote to the chilly weather.
Speaking of chilly, the cheese plate we ordered had a nice array of fromage, but, as billed on the menu, the cheese was cold. Cheese needs to be brought to room temperature to acquire its maximum taste. If you don’t believe me, ask the French.
Our second trip to EnVie was made on a far colder night, and a hot toddy of sweetened tea and whiskey sounded good. The taste was spot-on, but the toddy veered more toward the warm side.
I often shy from seafood in most restaurants, because they either don’t get it right, or they start with something that’s been dead and frozen for who knows how long.
But Judy wanted moules (mussels), and, what the heck, I gave it a try. And I’m so glad I did.
This appetizer was partially submerged in a thin cream sauce bursting with tastes of onion, chives, herbs (probably tarragon) and especially garlic—perfection in a bowl. They were as good as mussels I’ve had anywhere, including places known for their mussels: Novia Scotia and Belgium.
I was ready to quit while I was ahead, seafood-wise. Judy had no misgivings, and ordered the scallops. One bite of her entree and I was disappointed…that I hadn’t ordered them myself. These scallops were plump, seared on the outside, tender and not overcooked inside. Perfection.
The scallops came with a dab of what EnVie calls bacon jam. I didn’t get the jam part; what I tasted was bacon crumbles. Nonetheless, this entree is a treat for scallop aficionados like me.
My entree choice roamed the land, not the sea.
I ordered the filet au poivre, a beef filet generously coated with fresh-ground pepper, and topped with a silky sauce of cognac-laced cream. I ordered it rare, and rare it came. The side of mashed potatoes blended with jerk seasoning added up to a wouldn’t-change-a-thing entree.
Save for the warm hot toddies, everything that was supposed to be hot was indeed hot. Note to several local restaurants I’ve reviewed: Hot food. See, it CAN be done!
The linear feel of EnVie is accentuated by minimalist furnishings. A sprig of rosemary tucked into a tiny vase is a “bouquet” for a table for two. The decor is spare, but not cold.
Our servers on both occasions were efficient, friendly, and patiently answered our many questions.
What would I change if EnVie were mine?
Some tinkering around the edges, perhaps. Add a splash of truffle oil to the french fries, they’re better that way.
Create what I call a peasant soup. We spent part of December in France. One of the best things I ate was a simple vegetable soup that, in reality, incorporated lamb and beef stock, undoubtedly created by first roasting the bones and marrow.
Finally, I would make baguettes a constant on the menu. You know the French hold a nationwide competition each year for the best baguettes? I don’t expect to find baguettes here that are nearly as good as those in France. Still, if I were EnVie, I’d find out who makes the very best baguettes in mid-Michigan, order them daily and serve them with entrees and with the cheese plates.
I “envie” baguettes. EnVie may be my best hope without flying across the Big Pond.SHE ATE
By GABRIELLE JOHNSON
It’s an interesting phenomenon to sit in a former sinkhole bar, remembering where you used to play darts and contend with your shoes sticking to the floor, and now admire the freshly whitewashed walls and minimalist, yet festive holiday décor.
Such is the situation at EnVie, the new iteration of the ill-fated Brannigan Brothers bar.
The interior of the restaurant is gorgeous. It is fresh, modern, and more than one person told me that the atmosphere reminded them of being in Chicago.
Our first visit started with a whimper, not a bang. I ordered a club soda and was given a glass of non-bubbly, oddly metallic tasting liquid. I told our server that I thought the club soda had gone flat, and was quickly given a new, marginally better glass.
As our server told us about the daily specials, I noticed some issues with pronunciation of dishes, such as coulis, which should be pronounced “COO-Lee.” If servers don’t know how to properly pronounce the names of dishes, let me know. I’ll call you and read the menu to you, or perhaps YouTube could be another great resource.
We started with the Dirty Fries, which had excellent flavor. The au poivre sauce was unique and lighter than expected, and there are few things I enjoy more than dragging a salty french fry through a runny egg yolk on its way to my mouth. But the temperature was off, and the dish was chilly.
After hearing it recommended from several people, I tried the salade niçoise. It was standard, nothing unique. It should come with a roll, or slices of a crusty baguette. The tuna was properly prepared, not overdone, and I could slice it with a fork.
Don’t be turned off by the anchovies that top a traditional niçoise; they are an integral part of the dish. They can easily be mashed up to render them essentially undistinguishable, but still allow them to impart their salty, rich flavor. The eggs were hard-boiled properly and the blood orange vinaigrette was tangy and tasty.
Mr. She Ate’s EnVie burger was bland, and the brie cheese topper could not save it. The slices of bacon on top hung over the sides of the bun, and were awkward to eat. The burger’s fried egg was a saving grace, but still he wished he could reverse his order and start over, since there are much better burgers in town and, we suspected, better items on the EnVie menu.
We ended our evening with a brownie from neighboring Whipped. I am totally in support of the partnership with another local business, but this thing was a hockey puck and would have been a lot better had it been served warm with a bit of vanilla ice cream.
I returned a few weeks later with two girlfriends, as my newest little eater stayed home with Mr. She Ate. Little Edmond Robert joined our household a few weeks ago, and is sweeter than the to-die-for bread pudding at the Soup Spoon. Mama reluctantly left him at home with visions of steak frites dancing through her head.
But before I sank my teeth into my steak, we started with the fromage fort—a fancy name for a milquetoast cheese platter. The “selection of cold cheeses” had been evidently purchased at Meijer, and they were cut into a combination of non-uniform large quadrilaterals and mini quarter-bite sized nobs.
Underneath the cheese slices was a mound of bread, again cut into doll-sized pieces, and the plate was rounded out with: chopped salami, a spoonful of capers, a dollop of olive tapenade, out of season sliced strawberries and four crackers. In a bistro that purports to have French influences, a cheese platter would be an opportunity to shine. This one was dull.
One friend chose the Reuben, and was surprised that the meat in the sandwich appeared to be roast beef, not corned beef. A frequent Reuben eater, she lamented that this one was particularly dry. Our other friend had the seafood risotto, and found the mussels to be overcooked to the point of mushiness. My steak frites, however, were nothing to complain about.
The New York strip was properly prepared to my requested medium rare, and topped with a scoop of heavenly herb butter.
It melted all over my plate, and into which I dipped not only every bite of my steak, but also every French fry before I swiped it through my ketchup. I’d had a baby five days earlier and I relished every single bite.
A note on service—although there are problems with the French words on the menu, the wait-staff was attentive. We never had empty water glasses, dishes were promptly cleared from the table and our young waiter wasn’t too shaken when he happened upon a table full of three women who were comparing stories about breast feeding. Nutshell: it’s hard, send lactation cookies.
For those looking for a French restaurant, EnVie isn’t it. French restaurants don’t serve poutine and Reubens, nor do they serve meatloaf. EnVie is contemporary American. The menu is a bit unwieldy and could stand to be pared down, but the fries are a standout, and EnVie is one of the few area restaurants to offer a proper salade niçoise.
210 S. Washington Square Lansing Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
(517) 318-6135 envie517.com