Malls typically rank right down there with hotels and airports on my list of desirable dining destinations—a bias I admit could cause me to miss a gem hidden among the rubble of mass-marketed cuisine.
Sure, I’ve been known to grab a bite during an all-day shopping excursion, but those meals are rarely remarkable. Then I tried local restaurateur Martha Hoover’s Petite Chou Bistro and Champagne Bar (14360 Clay Terrace Blvd., Carmel; 566-0765).
The little sibling of the popular Café Patachou restaurants, Petite Chou melds the same comfortable “student union for adults” atmosphere with French bistro charm. Their breakfast-and-lunch menus also are similar, with Patachou favorites like Broken Yolk Sandwiches and the Hippie with a Benz omelet finding spots in the bistro’s more European lineup. Unlike its café counterpart, though, Petite Chou also is open for dinner.
We visited at lunchtime, avoiding familiar items by ordering only difficult-to-pronounce dishes. First up was the Croque Madame ($14.95): essentially a fancy ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg. Eating it required a fork and knife, but every bite was well worth the effort. Thick-sliced bread enveloped a generous portion of Smoking Goose ham, accented by a béchamel sauce (fancified milk, butter and flour) and smothered by a slice (or two) of Gruyere cheese. The egg perched on top provided a nice contrast to the sweet-and-salty overtones of the sandwich.
My friend had the Ratatouille Crepe Provencal ($11.50), which included zucchini, eggplant, onions, tomato and feta cheese. The large crepe, made with imported French flour, was perfectly browned, and the abundant veggies were al dente crisp. The flavors mingled beautifully, reminding her of a gourmet pizza. Her only criticism: the “lightly dressed field greens” served on the side were limply overdressed.
We also tried the Vegetarian Tartine ($9.75), an open-face sandwich featuring curried lentil pate, tomato and cucumber with a few ribbons of creamy dijonnaise. I expected the pate to be a spreadable paste—not slices of what reminded me of vegetarian meatloaf—but it was tasty, nevertheless. I’m glad I added avocado (an extra $1.60), which supplied a much-needed creamy element.
Our dessert choices weren’t quite as adventurous, but they were just as successful. Harrison’s Crepe ($6.75) wrapped fresh berries and chocolate ganache in another perfectly prepared, paper-thin pancake, topping it with more chocolate and crème anglaise. The Lemon Tart ($6.25) kept our taste buds on high alert, its shortbread crust and baked lemon curd filling offering a nice balance of sweet and sour.
Petite Chou (which has another location in Broad Ripple) just made Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of the best French restaurants in the United States. I can’t make that bold a statement, but I know this: It sure beats the heck out of the mall food court.•
—Andrea Muirragui Davis
Last in a month-long series of mall restaurant reviews.