Restaurant review: French fried at L'Eden

L'Eden Café & Bar in downtown Tampa needs to reconnect with its French inspiration.

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click to enlarge Inside the comfy yet sophisticatedly styled L'Eden in downtown Tampa. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Inside the comfy yet sophisticatedly styled L'Eden in downtown Tampa.

I’ve immersed myself in French cuisine since I first learned to cook decades ago and, just this summer, spent time indulging in its wonders from Lyon to Bordeaux to Paris, as my “Postcards from France” for CL attest. Almost without exception, there’s a strong emphasis on technique and presentation, even at the most casual of establishments. It’s in the DNA.

When you’re a small restaurant with a limited menu and a particular culinary focus, it’s incumbent upon the proprietor to think ahead. You might only have one chance to hook a customer. I enter psyched to see what new owner Priscilla Vincent has brought to L’Eden Café & Bar’s approach to escargot, that most iconic French appetizer. Oops, not available tonight. Pardon. One of my dining group fancies the duck and Brie crêpe. Also missing in action. Well, how about a glass of the Bordeaux blanc? Sorry, we’re out of that. Well, at least there’s foie gras.

Foie gras is one of the world’s great luxury ingredients, and while I adore it in any form, it’s at its seductive best when pan-seared. Usually, the glistening lobe of lusciousness is cross-hatched and sitting on a slice of brioche to absorb every drop of fatty goodness. There’s almost always something sweet and fruity in the preparation to complement the shining jewel. After all, we eat first with our eyes, and French cuisine is noted for presentation. That’s why L’Eden’s dish is so perplexing.

My plate arrives and I see a nice pile of fresh baby greens, a small stainless steel cup filled with fig jam, and a slightly singed croissant that looks like it’s been depressed in a George Foreman grill. I lift the croissant top, and there’s the slice of foie gras, melted into the flaky pastry layers. The good news is that not a drop of the delicious foie is lost, but why bury the star of the plate, overwhelming it with an entire croissant? French food is about finesse, and this is just odd. Imagine if Panera offered a foie gras croissant panini.

click to enlarge A view of the charming café and bar from the outside. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
A view of the charming café and bar from the outside.

Our cheese and charcuterie platter is underwhelming on the dairy front, with repetitive slices of fresh Asiago, an unidentified Danish cheese that seems to be fontina and a stainless cup, this time filled with a soft double cream in search of its rind. How is this possible? One of the glories of France is the variety of cheese. Why not celebrate fromage Français?

The rest of the menu also takes fine, fresh ingredients and manages to be mundane. The salmon steamed in Champagne is as ordinary as the mound of rice. The rack of lamb and soft diced potatoes could benefit from a Maillard reaction lesson, and the onion soup will never make it in the U.S. with cheese on the side.

The final coup de grâce is dessert. The creme brûlée oozes liquid, the chocolate mousse is out back sneaking a Gauloises with the missing escargot, and the crêpe is burnt. If you burn a crêpe, begin again.

We need you, L’Eden, and want you to thrive. Please reconnect to your DNA. 

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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