Queen of Cusine “Gallic licks on Lake Street”


Le Town Talk
2707 E. Lake Street

Remember that classic Lake Street diner with the multi-lightbulb marquee, Town Talk? Well, it’s still chattering, all right, but today the talk is French. Parlez-vous comfort food, Parisian style? And at very comfortable prices? Then welcome to the just-launched Town Talk French Diner.
It’s the unlikely dream-come-true of husband-and-wife team Emilie Cellari and Ben Johnson—one of whom is a Minnesota native, the other (guess which?) lured from Marseilles to cook at l’Hotel Sofitel. Long story short: They decided to walk the talk and launch their very own bistro and chose this landmark, if lately failing, East Lake Street site.
The menu’s as short and sweet as you’d expect in a diner kitchen, distilled to a handful of classic bistro dishes. Starters (all under $10 except the rillette, $12) include beef tartare—a ruddy mountain of ground steak accompanied by traditional accents of capers, shallots and eggs yolk to mix in tableside, along with a couple of toasts upon which to spread the collage. (I added a shake of pepper; you might wish to, too.) The rillette of duck, preserved in duck fat—plenty of it—was presented in a bitty Mason jar, aside a crispy cornichon pickle and puddle of assertive Dijon mustard. It was tasty, but not earth-shattering: too much fat, too little duck itself. Both starters proved more than generous for two. Or go for the gougeres (cream puff shells) piped with a creamy mushroom filling abetted by a splash of beer and hint of mustard. Or the tartine—a toasted baguette piled with tomato, mozzarella and basil on compound butter.
The endive salad ($8) proved more than plenty for the two of us, spilling with nutty gruyere cheese, sweet crisp apple and savory walnuts, all baptized with a spritz of lemon-herb vinaigrette. Soups on offer, too.
What to order for your plat principal? Clearly the bouillabaisse—the culinary icon of seaside Marseilles, Emilie’s home town. By chance, I’d enjoyed that very dish at a harborside table there a year ago at three times the price (but also plenty more seafood in the bowl). Emilie’s rendition sports mussels and clams in their shells and a few ivory chunks of cod, along with fingers of boiled potatoes in the savory broth. Rather than a dish of rouille (that traditional garlicky, chili-kissed uber-mayo) to stir into the broth, you get a schmear on a single toast. But the whole endeavor costs only $13 here, so what can I say? Or order that second Marseilles seafood classic, the cod—here presented with tomato sauce, crème fraiche and potatoes, $14.
There’s also steak frities; a beef-based boudin blanc sausage with carrot puree and mustard greens; and a laden burger. Instead, we opted for chicken. The vol au vent—chicken and lobster in cream sauce harbored in puff pastry ($12)—was sold out, but the roast chicken ($11) proved delicious—moist from brining, and garnished with a scoop of ratatouille in jus. All provender comes from local suppliers, organic where possible. Kids’ menu, too.
And then there’s dessert: Choose a classic dark chocolate mousse or tarte tatin, whose rich puff pastry envelops fruit in season (apple tonight) with caramel and crème fraiche, both steals at only $5. Lots of trendy cocktails, too, and a wine list that includes a decent rose to accompany that bouillabaisse and chicken. Choose diner counter seating in the tiny, narrow entry room or wander beyond to a second site dressed in booths and tables.
Vive la France et le Town Talk, a sweet addition to our local dining scene, run by a pair of sweethearts.

One Comment:

  1. Can’t wait to try this place!

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