First impression: Dining at L'Escalier is like experiencing a meal in a fine European hotel or on a steamship in the 1930s. Attention is paid to all the details — from the elegant atmosphere, to a well-trained staff, to some of the most beautifully presented and finely executed food in South Florida. The cuisine is French inspired, but it is not heavy and overly sauced. Portions are small, but each bite is packed with flavor. You can order a la carte or the four-course petit tasting menu ($110, $55 extra for wine pairings) or the seven-course grand tasting menu ($175, $90 extra for wine pairings).
Background: L'Escalier (staircase in English) is under the expert direction of Greg Vassos. The restaurant has been recognized with the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award.
Ambience: The elegant atmosphere features soaring ceilings with hand-painted beams, floor-length tablecloths and comfortable banquettes. Traditional arches that resemble Palladian windows divide the room and make it more intimate.
Starters: Crisp Maine scallops ($26) included two perfectly cooked scallops served with a variety of textures — small portions of Jerusalem artichoke puree, tiny Honshimeji mushrooms, English peas, Burgundy black truffle and a tiny bit of red wine jus. Peekytoe crab "Mai Tai" ($24), an Atlantic rock crab with tender pale pink meat, is encapsulated in an avocado fluted with a knife. It is served with hearts of palm, cherry coconut terrine, compressed fruits and dark rum spheres.
Entree excellence: Choices are limited on the a la carte menu, but we were thrilled with our selections. A small Maine lobster tail ($42) was beautifully displayed with three excellent duck confit raviolis, fava beans, black trumpet mushrooms, baby corn, orange gel and vanilla corn jus. Tender slices of Muscovy duck ($43) was served with duck confit tart, honey crisp apple, endive, compressed squash, candied walnuts, brown butter apple puree and duck jus.
Side issues: Bread choices include fresh brioche and French baguette.
Sweet!: The roasted banana crème ($20), done flambé tableside, was a great treat. The dessert, which included bananas Foster, was perfectly balanced between sugar and alcohol. Another memorable treat was smores ($18). The elegant presentation features a graham cracker tart with chocolate ganache and chocolate pot de crème, smoke maple sweet potato puree and burnt honey ice cream.
Liquid assets: It is hard to resist the sommelier approaching the table with a large silver bucket with a choice of three or four champagnes. Prices range from $11 for 3 ounces of Gardet Brut to $60 for 6 ounces of Krug Grande Cuvee. A comprehensive wine list has exceptional depth.
Service: Impeccable. Pacing was flawless. Servers cater to every need — from water, to menu description, to removing plates immediately.
Insider tip: A 20 percent gratuity is automatically added to the bill. Although soufflés are not on the menu, you can request them.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun