A meal at Cafe Normandie is like coming home to your favorite dish and it’s no wonder; head chef and owner Jean-Louis has been putting his heart and soul into all his dishes ever since he first opened his twelve-seat eatery just a few shops up the street.
“I always feel that my restaurant is my home. When you come into my restaurant you are coming into my home and that’s why I want to give you the best”.
Indeed, Jean-Louis has made a home away from home for Annapolis natives and visitors alike for over 30 years. French classics like the Escargots or the Veal Normandie have helped to foster a love for French cuisine in the hearts of all who come through the door.
With my trusty companions Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers and St. John, patron saint of love and friendships around my neck I was ready for l’amour in all its decadent forms starting with one of Cafe Normandie’s specialties: the French Onion soup.
It was made from scratch with a base rich enough to make you marvel at that fact, topped with ooey gooey gruyere and crouton, and served hot enough to burn your mouth (impatience is my middle name, burning my mouth is always my game).
They’ve stuck to the original recipe and for good reason. According to Jean-Louis,
“sometimes people with classic food, they slip away. They try to make it cheaper or faster. Here we don’t take any shortcuts. We do the same way as we did 34 years ago”.
Sometimes keeping it simple really is better, and in this instance, the proof was in the pudding–er, soup.
Next came the Salmon and Blueberries. Onsight the dish had a straightforward presentation that anyone raised in the food pyramid era could appreciate—protein, starch, veggie—but it was the execution that really spoke to me.
To start, there was a heavenly housemade beurre blanc, one that Jean-Louis stated was not “as traditional” as others but it complimented the salmon beautifully. The sauce, a demure reduction of white vinegar, shallots, cream, cayenne, and sea salt was nestled under said salmon, which, I might add was juicy, tender goodness. Like any good jo, the sauce was supportive without being obtrusive; charming without stealing the spotlight.
Sauteed baby blueberries imparted a subtle sweetness, and even the rice was sublime enough to grab my attention. Who would have thought rice deserved its own spotlight, but true to form Jean-Louis put his TLC into every aspect of the meal. “Because I like the rice to stick a little so I mix two different kinds together so that it’s not exactly sticky but it sticks together”. I still remain mystified as to how Jean-Louis got that rice to taste so yummy but it will have to be a conversation for another visit.
Last, but not least, were the steamed green beans and carrots that gave the meal it’s proper balance. I like my veggies borderline al dente (soggy and mushy? I call those trigger words) and these babies did not disappoint. By the end I felt supremely satisfied–the kind that leaves you on cloud nine and not on a bus headed straight to regret and bloat city, which in my book is a surefire sign of a fantastic meal prepared by a master. More importantly, I felt like I had earned my dessert. (If your version of adulting is eating your veggies before dessert then welcome to my world.)
February might be the season of love but the Valentine’s Day pastry special that day was the real reason behind true devotion. The inspiration for the greatest love stories ever written was on the tip of my tastebuds, and it came in the shape of a heart-shaped pastry filled with almond cream and topped with a sugar glaze and fresh raspberries. To the chef that made this from scratch minutes before it came my way, all I can say is I love you, mean it.