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FOUNTAIN OF PLEASURE

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In these health-conscious times - times when some people clutch their chests in a psychosomatically induced coronary at the mere mention of Peter Luger - many people avoid French cuisine because they equate it with ultra-rich sauces and desserts.

Of those people who throw caution to the wind and live dangerously by occasionally ingesting butter and cream, many still stay away because they think French food means spending beaucoup bucks. Well, luckily for Brooklynites, there’s a new French restaurant in Fort Greene that dispels both those foolish ideas.

Inconspicuously located on DeKalb Avenue between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue, in a part of Brooklyn that is fast becoming a foodie’s paradise, you’ll find Loulou, one of the nicest little French restaurants this side of the East River, if not the Atlantic.

It may be hard for some to imagine, but the food at Loulou is delicious French cuisine that isn’t smothered in butter or cream. And to fatten the deal (no pun intended), the prices are reasonable.

Loulou was opened in November by the husband-and-wife team of William and Christine Snell. William is in charge of the food, a job for which he is more than qualified, having served as chef in such fine Manhattan establishments as the City Wine and Cigar Company and the Tribeca Grill.

Christine, an ex-event planner, is in charge of everything else, which may be a lot, but she seems to make it look like the place runs itself.

Just walking into the restaurant is like being instantly transported across the ocean to a little fishing cottage on the northwestern coast of France. The rustic tables and exposed brick and wood beams exude warmth, making Loulou a cozy and quaint place in which to dine.

In addition, the restaurant has outside seating in a lovely garden out back. The garden, paved with small stones and simply landscaped with plants and a fountain, has a very European feel. When weather permits, diners are invited to enjoy their meals al fresco, although with only six or eight tables, that fills up quickly.

But don’t let all this talk about ambience and decor distract you from what is truly exceptional about Loulou: the food. Chef Snell’s menu focuses on seafood, drawing inspiration from Christine’s home region of Brittany. Unlike many modern chefs who strive towards complexity, Snell keeps his dishes simple, using fewer ingredients, allowing the flavors of the fresh fish and seafood to come through. When there are sauces, they are served on the plate or in small amounts, so that they don’t overwhelm.

The menu at Loulou changes with the seasons, and most of the opening dishes (appetizers are priced from $6 to $11) on the current menu, such as the shrimp and crab crepe with a cornichons remoulade, are perfect for summer, as they are served cold or at room temperature. The crepe appeared similar to a Vietnamese summer roll, but the taste was far more refined: chunks of chilled shrimp and rock crab, mixed with crisp lettuce and tomato, wrapped in a paper-thin pancake and topped with a dollop of a light, mustard sauce. Very refreshing.

The seafood Napoleon, layers of raw sashimi-grade tuna and fresh crab, crowned with a hefty portion of ossetra caviar and served on a bed of lettuce, was magnificent. Very little seasoning, just a small amount of homemade mayonnaise with the crab, allowed plenty of space for the true flavors of the ingredients to come out. The lobster terrine, accompanied with cornichons, artichoke hearts and Dijon mustard, was also exceptional. The consistency was so airy, and it had such a subtle lobster flavor, I felt as if I was savoring the soft, sweet foam of the ocean.

When it came time for the main course (entrees priced $12-20), seafood continued to be the star with such classics as bouillabaisse and moules frites (mussels with French fries). Chef Snell did not fail to impress with his pan-sauteed halibut and his grilled black sea bass. The halibut was served amandine style, with a light-brown crust that tasted of butter and lemon and slivers of almond that added a satisfying crunch in contrast to the firm yet tender fish.

The sea bass was grilled and served whole (if you are scared of the bones, ask your waiter to debone the fish and remove the head and tail) with garlic mashed potatoes and wilted spinach, all atop an amazing sauce made from fresh langoustine. Simply wonderful.

And don’t worry if you aren’t a seafood lover, because Chef Snell also has chicken, lamb and steak on the menu, as well as a few vegetarian choices.

After so much incredible food, my guest and I weren’t sure we had room for dessert, but when the options were presented, there was no way we could refuse. The rhubarb tart was just that, tart rhubarb inside flaky phyllo pastry, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon and accompanied with vanilla ice cream and a light caramel sauce.

If you think that sounds good, wait until you hear about the chocolate-banana crepe. It was served hot, filled with chocolate-hazelnut spread and big chunks of sweet banana, and topped with a hot chocolate sauce and ice cream. Believe me, it tastes even better than it sounds.

Everything at Loulou was immaculately prepared and absolutely delicious. Lucky for us, it’s in Brooklyn, because if this place were in Manhattan, neither you nor I would ever get a table.

 

Loulou [222 DeKalb Ave. between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue in Fort Greene] accepts all major credit cards. Closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (718) 246-0633.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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