La Belle Aurore, Niantic
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Rainbow trout is a case in point—roasted with a magical mix of aromatic fresh herbs and lemon, boned and stuffed with slices of orange, and served with potatoes and finely diced seasonal vegetables. Even our friend, an Oregon fly fisherman, is impressed.
Subtle flavor nuances also distinguish the duck breast, which for the most part is tender and juicy (one slice is tough), and served with creamy potatoes au gratin and sweet, roasted, almost caramelized Brussels sprouts.
Filet of beef tenderloin, however, disappoints. Ordered medium-rare, it arrives over-cooked to the point of being medium to well-done. This is unfortunate because while it’s tender enough, this is a lean cut and without fat or sauce it is rather tasteless and dry. Surprisingly, the green beans served alongside are undercooked, almost raw.
But dinner gets back on course with the next entrée, a fit-for-a-king’s-hunting-lodge platter of venison—not braised or in a ragout as is often the case today, but in the form of two large venison chops. We’d ordered them medium-rare and when they arrive evenly browned on the surface with no grill marks, we worry. We should not have. Both chops are perfectly medium-rare, fine-textured, tender and—amazingly in an era of farm-raised blandness—they taste like venison, not filet mignon. Like all entrées, the venison chops are paired with appropriate vegetables, in this instance a mélange of tiny Brussels sprouts, sliced sunchoke and diced beets.
The dessert list is short and choice and the chocolate mousse is indeed ethereal. Soothingly smooth and not too sweet, it’s heady, with enough dark chocolate to induce a passion for just one more bite until, voilà, you, me, they, we have eaten the whole thing. We also enjoy a lovely fruit tart consisting of a square of house-made puff pastry layered with sliced fresh pears and soft cheese, and run under the broiler so the ingredients melt into each other on the plate and in the mouth. I order pistachio cake and hoard it shamelessly because you don’t find it on many menus—which is one reason I seek out restaurants like La Belle Aurore. I love this cake. It’s almost flourless, dense and moist, crisp-edged and served with strawberry sour cream ice cream. All desserts are house-made, even the sorbets and ice creams.
La Belle Aurore’s wine list is ideally suited to the fare at hand and our waitress enthusiastically describes featured selections and the reds we’re taking under consideration.
Dawn Bruckner’s cooking is hard to categorize. She herself came up with the bonne femme analogy. It fits because good chefs cooking in their own kitchens interpret even the classics in different ways. They improvise, invent, play around with technique, and ultimately develop a distinctly personal cooking style. That’s what Dawn Bruckner is doing at La Belle Aurore. So what shall we call the cuisine? I like to think of it as authentic goddess-of-the-dawn.
La Belle Aurore
75 Pennsylvania Ave., Niantic (860/739-6767; labelleaurorebistro.com)
Lunch Wednesday through Friday 12 to 2:30. Dinner Monday and Wednesday through Saturday 5:30 to 9. Sunday brunch 8 to 1. Closed Tuesday. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $6 to $14, entrées $18 to $24, desserts $6 to $10.