By Mary D. Scourtes
Remembering the most spectacular fireworks show along the Champ de Mars on Bastille Day epitomizes my taste for all thing French. Being part of that massive July 14 holiday is a celebration that I can cross off my bucket list. And every Bastille Day I long for a return to France.
Despite the fact Gerard Jamgotchian has observed many Bastille hooplas, his global restaurant L’Eden had no special menu planned. But he did offer beer and wine specials. Raised in Marseilles, the widely travelled chef of L’Eden recasts traditional French finds along with toothsome Spanish, Greek and Italian dishes.
“The biggest obstacle is people do not know where we are,’’ says Gerard about his four-year-old bistro. Lunch is his bread and butter, although some are reluctant to head downtown because parking can be a problem, he says. But dinner traffic is improving.
The café seats only 25 inside but adds another two dozen in the atrium where Gerard got the idea to name his place from the Garden of Eden. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow a great vista for downtown skyscrapers and people watching at Gas Light Park from the corner of Tampa and Madison streets. A soft bed of contemporary French music offers a soothing backdrop.
The menu is formatted differently than most. Pastries and desserts appear before the main course and the starters and main dishes aren’t grouped separately. Start dinner with the chef’s creamy lobster bisque, which may be light on lobster but long on flavor. Other choices include Scottish smoked salmon, Spanish gazpacho or French foie gras, offered with a Loupiac wine.
“The age-old French tradition of a cheese course is the most requested here,” adds Gerard.
Is spanakopita a starter or main course? We found the small phyllo envelope of feta cheese, onions and spinach delivered entrée impact nicely. A fan of greens presents flourish. Beef eaters are well served by the contrasting sweet and tender filet flavors against velvety mushrooms with a kick of green peppercorns on Steak Diane. Accompanying it were roasted potatoes and asparagus drizzled with Romanesque sauce.
Worth trying is a misnamed rack of lamb that comes in the form of lollipop chops mounded over lentils. Chicken madras — which is not like any saucy hot red curry I’ve tasted — is a cold, curried, nutty chicken mince, served with pita triangles. Duck breast slices meet warm brie in a crêpe that is served split and jackknifed on the plate. Shrimp with a garlic and artichoke sauce were zesty yet skimpy.
Other items available include Indian rice and vegetable biryani; Greek rice and pine nut-filled dolmathes; and a Spanish salmon, shrimp and scallop ceviche.
The chef changes desserts frequently: Crêpes may have chocolate, apple, caramel, strawberry or other fruit filling but a flourless, chocolate gateau, drizzled with chocolate sauce, is always aboard.
Chef Gerard, who formerly owned the bakery and café Au Rendezvous in downtown Tampa, knows his pain, brioche and croissants, too. He schedules special wine tasting dinners every month; the next is on July 28.
L’Eden Restaurant & Bar
Where: 500 N Tampa St., Tampa
Hours: Lunch: Mon.- Fri., 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wed. and Thurs., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri., and Sat., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Pay for it: AE, DC, MC, V, and Discover
Reservations: (813) 221-4795
Charm them with cheese: “Buy on an apple, and sell on cheese.” Sample wines you are considering for purchase after you’ve cleansed your palate with a tart apple, because you can better detect a wine’s flaws. A host should encourage guests to partake of plenty of cheese, which coats the palate and has the effect of increasing the fruit in a wine, which can mask any flaws. Serve your brie when you want your lower shelf wine to taste better. More on this.