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French flavors: Cozy Le Troquet offers wide-ranging but compact menu

Le Troquet’s escargots are served out of the shell in a ceramic dish with garlic butter and parsley. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

With its turquoise-colored wooden facade and sinuous art nouveau lettering, Le Troquet looks as if it dropped into Downtown Albuquerque from another place and time.

The anachronisms extend to the cramped dining room, where the floor is covered in miniature hexagonal tiles and a wooden bar straight out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting stands heavily in the back.

The restaurant, named for the French word for bistro, opened in 2015 at the southeast corner of Gold and Third, a location that previously hosted two other French restaurants: Le Café Miche and P’tit Louis Bistro. It offers a wide-ranging yet compact dinner menu, with only seven entrees and a few specials. Prices are more fine dining than bistro – several dishes are over $35.

Judging by the turnout on a recent Friday night, the prices aren’t keeping people away. By 6:30, the place was full and loud with conversation. There are a few too many tables inside, putting neighboring diners close. Servers pick up plates from the kitchen through a small window off the bar and maneuver around without incident, though the plates pass perilously close to patrons’ heads.

Menu highlights include filet de bouef en croute ($29.95), a visually striking presentation of beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry. Construction is a bit impractical, as the beautifully browned pastry shell doesn’t adhere to the thick slab of tenderloin, but you can still assemble a great bite out of it all. Duxelles, an intensely flavored mix of chopped mushrooms cooked with shallots and garlic in butter, and bordelaise sauce, a red wine-based reduction that tastes like a boiled-down stew broth, inject life into the mildly flavored beef. Unfortunately, the accompanying vegetables, including orange and purple carrots, were just barely warm and the fried potato puffs were cold in the center.

The inconsistency carried over to the coquilles St. Jacques à la Provencale ($36.95), three seared sea scallops served in a small casserole dish. The tangy sauce of tomatoes, wine, shallots and garlic enlivened the buttery, sweet scallops, but the vegetables, bright and appetizing over a bed of rice, weren’t hot enough.

A nice overview of French desserts is provided in a sampler plate of a macaron, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse served with a cup of espresso. All good, except the dollop of meringue over the crème brûlée was like a suit of armor.

Lunch at Le Troquet offers a more serene environment in which to contemplate dishes such as escargots à la Bourguignonne ($12.75), six snails served out of the shell. The snails, briny, slightly sweet and a little rubbery, hunker down in the pockets of a ceramic plate surrounded by a shimmering pool of melted butter studded with parsley and garlic. The leftover garlic butter makes a great dipping sauce for the complimentary rolls.

A lunch special of chicken tarragon with mushrooms showcases one of the elemental herbs of French cooking in a butter and wine sauce at Le Troquet. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Tarragon, one of the elemental herbs of French cuisine, shines in a special of chicken tarragon ($14.25). The herb’s minty, peppery flavor spikes the butter and wine sauce and classes up the normally stodgy chicken breast. The vegetables came out at the right temperature this time.

A slice of quiche Lorraine ($10.50), served with butter lettuce and red onions, is largely successful, the quiche eggy and light and the crust flaky on the sides and firm on the bottom. Bacon, listed as one of the ingredients, was hard to find.

A memorable final act, the crêpes suzette ($14.00) were two thin pancakes folded into triangle shapes over a pulpy orange sauce that tasted like a shot of cognac.

Metered parking on the streets was easy to find at both lunch and dinner. There’s also an inexpensive lot a block east on Gold.

Based on the improved consistency of the meals at lunch, it appears that the crowd at dinner affected the timing of the dishes. Overall, there was much more good than bad at Le Troquet, making it a worthwhile place to duck into from out of the cold.