UPDATE: LE PANACHE HAS CLOSED
Le PanachÃ© has always seemed to me a safe, reliable choice for French dining. It doesn’t have the suave look of the big boys – it is, in fact, quite drab-looking, nothing much from the outside, and not much more from the in – but if you’re in the market for competent French cooking, smooth service and a fair price, Le PanachÃ© works pretty well.
But this time round I find myself conflicted. How to describe Le PanachÃ©? Solidly reliable and timeless? Dated and coasting? Probably both. The name suggests innovation and flair, but you won\’t find much of either here.
“And of course, Madame, we have our signature dishes, the tulipe of snail in a Gorgonzola cream sauce, and the house rack of lamb, with Dijon garlic and rosemary.” I stifle a yawn. These have been PanachÃ© signature dishes for a decade. And here arrives is the same herb bread with its trio of flavoured butters. The same veal kidneys with two-mustard sauce, the same ‘decadent’ crepe.
I ask if the signature lamb is from a local farm? No, it’s from New Zealand. Is the ostrich from the area? He’s not sure, but doubts it. I’m curious about the sea bass. “Well, Greenpeace might not like it, but it’s actually delicious.”
One evening we order the seven-course ‘Menu Surprise’ and find ourselves re-eating much of the menu we’ve sampled over two previous dinners, just in smaller portions.
But perhaps you are reading this thinking if it ain’t brokeâ€¦. So what if the place is dated looking and the food is largely unchanging? They treat me well, I know what to expect from dinner, and the decor suits me fine. Which is what Le PanachÃ© does. It suits. It’s fine.
Most of the opening moves appeal. The foie gras “torchon” is buttery and of good liver flavour. It comes with rounds of toast and a prune and onion marmalade. The giant shrimp with ginger, coriander and chili sauce is nicely balanced, the shrimp crunchy-good. (We re-taste it two weeks later on the Menu Surprise, where it comes with a shot glass of a lovely shrimp bisque.) Le PanachÃ©’s salad has always been a pleasure – a mountain of fresh, hand-torn greens piled up with treats, well dressed.
Still, we find the celery root soup too salty. The sweetbreads, though a generous portion and well cooked, are set in a dark brown sauce with a floury finish, and without any evidence of the promised Calvados to provide a bit of welcoming sweetness to the meat. And the tuna tartar is too heavily roused with soy sauce. The character of the fish is lost under the onslaught.
Of the main dishes, the venison (with a spiced plum and port sauce) has the greatest appeal. On the Menu Surprise, there is roasted duck, luscious pink slices, with the same plum sauce, served with squares of roasted golden beets and caramelized parsnip. After duck, a granitÃ©e, and then we are served a course of sea bass, with a smoked salmon and dill butter (also a mainstay on the regular menu.)
It was a good meal, but it didn’t feel carefully thought out, (fish after duck and after a fruit ice) and for $70 per person, it seems to me it should have been. It was five courses of protein followed by chocolate cake, and none of it would be much of a ‘surprise’ to anyone familiar with the PanachÃ© menu.
It strikes me that Le PanachÃ© is lacking a feminine touch. A woman might suggest re-locating the notice about gift certificates from the back of the toilet. She might point out that the booths across from the bar are too low for their tables; she would surely arrange the blinds (some are up, some down, some on a slant), set straight the brown table cloths over the densely arranged tables. She might even suggest that the Menu Surprise contain some greens at some point.
Le PanachÃ©, in short, could use a bit more panache.