Monday, October 03, 2005

French 75 Brasserie - Irvine

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

That's the quote that popped into my brain as I looked down at the piece of foie gras on my plate. The small wedge of goose liver sat center stage on the oblong dish, the star of a triumverate which also included rare duck breast and a duck leg confit. The new French 75 Brasserie called this presentation "Duck Three Ways". I called it "A Post Mortem on Huey, Dewey and Louie".

And there I was, feeling like a reluctant Hannibal Lecter, about to devour my latest victims. If this were a film, it would have to be titled "Silence of the Ducks".

With a flick of my scapel, the quivering chunk of liver gave little resistance as the blade sliced cleanly through it like Jell-O. I placed it my mouth and immediately felt a surge of euphoria. The warm velvet texture of it slowly melted on my tongue, and liquified like a decadent custard. The pleasure of eating foie gras is sanguineous and carnal. It's like pornography for the palate, and you feel naughty for loving it. I imagine if vampires existed, they'd enjoy this as an amuse bouche before a night of blood letting.

The thrill of my first taste of the liver was followed by a slight twinge of guilt as I continued to enjoy this controversial product of French tradition like a ravenous animal, alternating between bites of the seared liver and the sour pieces of cooked pear. The fruit, along with the tart reduction of its juice helped to cut through the foie gras' inherent fattiness.

After finishing off the liver, which I dubbed Huey, I continued on to chew on Dewey's flesh. His breast, ripped from the carcass of the duck, was barely licked by the flames of the grill before the hunk is sliced on the diagonal, and splayed out in thick, bloody slices on top of roasted potatoes. I found that the rare part of the steaks were paradoxically chewier than the more cooked portions on the outside.

Next was Louie. This third preparation of the water fowl, the confit of duck leg, is by definition, cooked in its own fat. But the charred drumstick looked like a severed limb recovered from a horrific house fire. Its skin although burnt, was smoky and crisp. The leg meat underneath, however, was dry and sinewy. Was this supposed to be a deliberate contrast to the bloody rare breast meat? I don't know, but on the whole, "Duck Three Ways" did the demise of Donald Duck's nephews justice.

We also tried that most French of appetizers; escargot. The menu describes the escargot as "basil-fed". I immediately imagined a Frenchman holding a snail in one hand and a tiny funnel in the other, vainly searching for the mouth. "What won't the French do to enhance the taste of their animals?" I wondered.

The escargot, as it turns out, were indeed, very herby. These dark chewy morsels of snail, served with garlic butter and bits of ham, had a dominant grassy note like it had been chewing up my lawn before it ended up on my plate.

My girlfriend, who treated me for this feast, had the oven roasted chicken and pommes puree. "Why don't they just call it mashed potatoes?" we asked each other. Well, because it's better than mashed potatoes. Creamy, absent of lumps and tasting of rich butter, the pommes puree elevated the simple rosemary roasted chicken to elegance.

Dessert was more status quo. The chocolate souffle was tall, fluffy and airy, and unlike the Chat Noir version I had last March, wasn't overpowered by the drenching of chocolate sauce.

The best dessert of the night, however, was the complimentary bread pudding they served me since it was my birthday. This warm plate of comforting bread mush had fresh raspberries, cream, and white chocolate. Yum!

French 75 is indeed very French. It's amazing to me that this was the same building that once occupied Martin Yan's SensAsian. What was once slapdash and chintzy is now sultry and intimate. Added to that, the French 75 staff is young, attractive, and beaming with fresh, happy smiles.

I am sure Hannibal Lecter would be quite pleased.

French 75 Brasserie
13290 Jamboree Rd.
Irvine, CA 92602


At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's only first thing Monday morning, and you seriously got me all worked up with your foie gras description. Give a girl a break will ya'??
Thank goodness you brought it down a notch with the 'visual' on the little escargots being fed basil.
Your meal sounds absolutely incredible. I'm glad to hear that it can stand on it's own, not like it's a 'wanna-be'...or, we'll give it 'time' until it finds it's own identity.
Being a Libra myself, I'm looking for spots to celebrate. Do you think this may be the spot for a Saturday night celebration?

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo - Happy B-Day man! Foie Gras is one of my favorite things, but I'd never have thought to Hannibal Lectorized it like you!

At 10:07 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It delights me that my description of the foie gras got to you! I actually took out a few choice metaphors to tame it down. Bit I'm glad that what I had left still had some bite!

I would definitely recommend French 75 for a Saturday night celebration. The room is evocative of a scene from Moulin Rouge, but without being too over-the-top. Classy, yet still somewhat laid-back.

Although the food at Chat Noir (a sister restaurant), is more refined and polished, I think French 75 is gutsier, and more oriented for fun. The portions are also more generous at French 75. A dish ordered here will definitely not leave you hungry!

Where ever you may end up, have a great birthday!

At 10:12 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks dude! I just couldn't help the Hannibal Lecter allusion...but I hope I didn't offend any Disney fans out there (I am one too)! Hopefully no one's reading our food blog posts as bed time stories for their children!

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

see how 'ferklempt' you made with that foie gras?
I even forgot my manners ::blush::
Happy Birthday!!

At 1:44 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

LOL! Thanks hbgrrl!

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

Have the lambs stopped screaming, Elmo? (Or ducks in this case?)

Ha ha, happy birthday! And I can't believe you actually named them!!! Too funny!

At 4:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Pam - You're right! I should've titled it "Silence of the Ducks".

Thanks for the birthday wish!

At 5:51 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Pam - Took the liberty of adding "Silence of the Ducks" into the post. Couldn't resist! Thanks for the idea!

At 11:07 AM, Blogger e d b m said...


what a good gf you have. i dont' think i'll ever be able to try foie gras haha. nice review.

does anyone know where you can buy foie gras? i was only able to buy goose liver at whole foods. it's so good and reasonably priced.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mealcentric - Thanks and have a good birthday yourself! I'm looking forward to reading about where you celebrate yours.

Dylan - I'd also be interested where foie gras can be bought. Although, I am a little scared of screwing up in the preparation. Same way that am weary of cooking an expensive lobster.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger e d b m said...

elmo, in the meantime, as i search for foie gras. definitely pick up a some duck/goose liver pate from whole foods. I applied it to crackers w/ a thin slice of pear. it's amazing.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mealcentric - I'm glad you asked. I think a lot of people would feel icky eating a rare duck breast.

I'm nowhere an expert on this, but duck breast seems to be one of the rare exceptions (no pun intended) where the rule of fully cooked poultry doesn't appear to apply.

I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't eaten duck breast rare and bloody about two years ago in Belgium (at a French chateau restaurant). I was enjoying this sumptous meal with *the* most succulent and tender rare steak I've ever had when someone told me that this steak I was enjoying was actually duck breast!

I was floored!

I had no idea fowl can be eaten almost raw like this, and I was in total disbelief that it tasted almost exactly like beef!

French 75's preparation of the duck breast, as you picked up from my review, wasn't as stellar an experience as the duck breast I had in Belgium.

I think French 75 might have needed to cook it a little longer to get rid of the chewiness. However, I think they are walking a fine line between underdone and overdone.

Cross that line and you end up with something like Cafe Hiro's attempt at duck breast, which is dry with no pink in the meat whatsoever (actually I think Hiro has permanently taken it off the menu, perhaps because it is difficult to get right).

But leave it too underdone, and you get a beautiful rare steak with too much chew.

So you are completely justified in being wary of this dish, especially if you haven't had rare duck breast before.

Now I'm not so sure I can recommend this dish for those uniniated to it. It's certainly going to leave a lasting impression if it's the first rare duck breast you've had...and it's probably going to be a negative one! Because if the thought of bloody duck meat doesn't already freak people out, gnawing on that chewy meat definitely will.

I ate all of it though. ;-)

At 2:30 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Dylan - Will do! Love goose liver pate!

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know of any place local where you can buy foie gras, but here's a place I know you can get it for sure:

Amusing write-up on French 75 - that duck sounds fabulous (and rare or med-rare is the only way to go!). Thanks for sharing!

At 9:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

sg - Thanks for the tip on the foie gras.

P.S. I'm looking forward to reading about your food adventure on your blog!

At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo - When we lived in LA, I dropped by a Restaurant Supply/Gourmet Shop called Surfas in Culver City, and they had Foie Gras, caviar and all of that stuff - it was very pricey....

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, if I remember what I learned in a cooking class - the technique for cooking duck breast is:
Score the skin
Cook skin side down at a medium heat - not blazing
Drain off rendered fat as necessary, until skin is crisp and fat stops rendering.

I eat mine's medium as well!

At 11:01 PM, Blogger BoLA said...

Mmm...not a big fan of foie gras. But your review definitely makes me want to give it another go! ;) "feel naughty for loving it"...sounds fabulous! Bread pudding's quite of my favorites, for sure. I agree w/'ve got a great g/f! Happy Birthday! October babies are the BEST!!! :D

At 8:11 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I'll have to check out Surfas...have heard so much about it.

You are right about the duck breast preparation. I saw that on a cooking show once (or read it in a cookbook). Actually now that I think about it, that's probably the way French 75 prepared my duck breast. Now I doubt it was grilled, because the skin was quite crisp. Yes, it had to be pan seared and roasted.


Thanks for your kind words!

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...


damn, brother! that was fantastic!! you are becoming quite the wordsmith. your descriptions are really sensual and dramatic. you just keep getting better. looking forward to your next one... no pressure or anything. haha.

happy twenty first birthday, buddy. jk ;)

At 10:00 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for the compliment! That means a lot coming from you! It's like as if De Niro himself told me I've done a good job acting!

At 10:34 AM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

thanks for writing this review! I had no idea this place was opened for business already.. hehehe

after reading your entry I took my family there 2 nights ago and it was great!! You can see my pictures here.


At 2:18 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Cool photos! Looks like you had a feast of your own! Thanks for sharing.

At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the wonderful, evocative memories of the duck - three ways. Unfortunately, my hubby and I dined at French 75 this evening - we've been going pretty frequently since it opened - and the duck is now only 2 ways - confit and breast. The foie gras was nowhere to be seen . . . not sure what happened, but I'm hoping they'll bring it back.

Happy Birthday, too!

At 11:29 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

miam miam,

Thanks for visiting and for the birthday greeting! It's too bad that they don't offer the foie gras anymore...that was the best part of the dish.

It's a good thing you updated this info here since I would hate for people to read my review and be disappointed when they find out they don't offer the liver as part of the meal.


Wow...sounds like you had a horrible time! I'd be pissed too if that had happened! DAMN!

But being as I am a member of a minority group myself, I didn't feel less than welcome the time I went. The service, was, in fact, quite warm and accomodating.

Seriously though, if that was the way you were treated, I would write them a letter telling them how you angry you are about the experience. You'd be surprised what a simple letter can do.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

my sister and her boyfriend went to eat here recently. they didn't have that great of an experience, but it wasn't as bad as "anonymous'." It was probably that particular waitress that messed things up because everyone she served seemed to be irritated. Maybe it was her first day? Anyways, they had to ask the 2-3 times for water refills and the waitress kept messing up their orders. the couple next to them just happened to order the same things (lobster bisque, beef stroganoff, gratin dauphinois, and flatiron steak), and they got their orders even though they came after my sister! Then my sister got her steak and it was not well done like she asked; it was bloody. The beef stroganoff was too mustardy and sour.

I hope that this bad experience was only because it was a tuesday night and that they decided to train her on that day. Maybe we'll give it another try some other day when they're hopefully not training someone!

At 8:25 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Aww, that's too bad Christine. Actually our waitress was pretty green too that night, she had no idea what to say when we asked her about the martinis. But at least she was pretty attentive and didn't get our orders wrong. Of course that was probably because the restaurant was practically empty the night we went.

At 5:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response on chowhound. I enjoyed reading your blog post and I wish they still served this dish. Unfortunately they only serve duck 2 ways now. I might try out Chat Noir.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for the comment. Chat Noir should do foie gras justice. I personally think that their chef is better than French 75.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for the tip on Rouge!

At 7:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried to leave a message but I got some kind of Internet Explorer error so I apologize if I've posted twice somehow. I don't see the post now.
Anyway I finally made it to Chat Noir. Thanks again for the recommendation! The decor is endearing and the foie gras was fabulous. Peanut butter and jelly toast with foie gras, I never would have imagined, but it works. I love the ambiance and will be bringing all my friends.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Peanut butter and Jelly with foie! Never would have put those three things together in the same sentence, let alone on a plate.

Happy to hear that it worked!

At 4:30 PM, Blogger todd. said...

This is really interesting. I'm starting to wonder if my wife and I are simply harder on restaurants than you are. This is where we ended up for her birthday (she found out about it elsewhere, and got excited before I had a chance to pass on your recommendations), and we were not impressed. One big difference is that we went to the Laguna Beach location. But we found the decor stuffy and outmoded, and the food good but not great. Except for the souffle, which was every bit as good as you say. Another possible difference is that we don't feel comfortable ordering foie gras, which may have eliminated some of the better options from the menu.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


The foie *was* the best part of the meal (the escargot, a close second). The duck breast was far too chewy to be palatable (but I guess I glossed over that part). So I didn't completely love the meal. I've been to many restaurants since this post, some were worse and some others better by miles (Marche Moderne for example), but French 75 was good as a baseline, and a great treat for me since it was my a milestone of a birthday dinner. I've been back a few times since. Each have been average to good.

Marche there's a French restaurant!

At 2:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this restaurant has been replaced with a new concept...

At 10:18 AM, Blogger NP said...

Posting this in Feb 2009

French 75 Laguna and Newport are still open. The location in Irvine closed and was transformed into "Wilhelm's Chophouse" which also is now closed.

I really liked the French 75 - WIlhelm's chophouse was a disaster. That location has some bad Karma to it or something... Sensasian now these two.


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