Le Zoo

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - DINING -

A good French brasserie can be trans­portive, mim­ick­ing the sights, aro­mas and fla­vors of a meal in Paris’ 8th Ar­rondisse­ment. A medi­ocre one can be a sad pa­rade of brown, sod­den food.

I’m happy to re­port that Le Zoo, new at Bal Har­bour Shops from Philadel­phia restau­ra­teur Stephen Starr, is a good brasserie. A very good one.

Clas­sics such as onion soup, salade verte, steak frites, trout aman­dine and duck con­fit are ex­e­cuted with an eye to de­tail, each a text­book ex­am­ple of how the dish should look and taste.

Or­der a mushroom tart ($16), sliced in four wedges for easy shar­ing, and a carafe of the house red Rhone blend ($16 for 12 ounces) while con­sid­er­ing the menu. Tiny pi­op­pini mush­rooms, with their dark brown caps and creamy white stems, pop when you bite their heads, re­leas­ing more of their foresty essence into flaky lay­ers of but­tery phyllo and truf­fled pecorino.

Chef Craig Wallen’s menu show­cases plenty of fresh seafood, fit­ting for its lo­ca­tion a stone crab’s throw from the ocean. His take on the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar pas­tacrab-chile com­bi­na­tion is a pleas­ing bowl of an­gel hair ($25) spun with gen­er­ous hunks of Alaskan king crab, the slow-build­ing heat of Fresno chiles and a dol­lop of crème fraiche to keep it light and keep it French.

I rarely ro­man­ti­cize sal­ads, but the fresh, crisp fin­gers of chicory leaves tossed with radish coins, green herbs and a tart lemon vinai­grette in Le Zoo’s salade verte ($11) are so el­e­gant and sat­is­fy­ing, I can’t stop think­ing about it.

Starr — who also runs Makoto, Le Zoo’s next-door neigh­bor, as 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Har­bour 305-602-9663, LeZoo.com Cui­sine: French Cost: Ex­pen­sive Hours: Lunch week­days, brunch Satur­day-Sun­day, din­ner nightly Reser­va­tions: Not ac­cepted Credit cards: All ma­jor Bar: Full ser­vice; $25 cork­age fee Sound level: Mod­er­ate to en­er­getic Park­ing: Dis­counted self-park­ing or valet park­ing with val­i­da­tion well as Steak 954 in Fort Laud­erdale and the re­cently opened Con­ti­nen­tal in Mi­ami Beach — bor­rowed menu and de­sign in­spi­ra­tion for this restau­rant from his Parc in Philadel­phia and Le Di­plo­mate in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. In the Starr tra­di­tion, Le Zoo serves con­sis­tently high-qual­ity food — not al­ways flaw­less, and not es­pe­cially cut­ting-edge — and ex­cels in ser­vice, hos­pi­tal­ity and at­mos­phere.

Steak tartare ($17) tasted some­what flat de­spite a sub­tle brine from chopped ca­pers and a creami­ness from quail egg. A few flakes of fin­ish­ing salt could amplify the bee­fi­ness of the chopped filet. Es­car­gots ($15) es­chew their usual gar­lic-pars­ley setup for a shell-less dunk in a crock of melted hazel­nut but­ter. The meat is lux­u­ri­ously ten­der, but, af­ter hav­ing one or two, fish­ing for snails in a murky broth quickly loses its ap­peal.

In­tel­li­gent, hos­pitable servers in clean uni­forms of white shirt, tie and folded apron weave ef­fort­lessly be­tween rose-mar­ble ta­bles out­side and on mo­saic-tile floors in­side. They give the kind of dot­ing-not-fawn­ing ser­vice that’s ex­pected by a crowd car­ry­ing Chanel bags, wear­ing Hublot watches and hav­ing valeted their Tes­las. Even the well-to-do don’t de­serve to be ripped off, how­ever, and Le Zoo’s $5-a-bot­tle charge for house-fil­tered Vero wa­ter seems rather steep.

A French-dom­i­nant wine list reaches into Cal­i­for­nia, South Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Italy and Ger­many, with plenty of good finds and val­ues in the un­der-$80 range. From the cock­tail bar, a Saz­erac ($13) is as po­tent as one you’d get on Bourbon Street.

In true brasserie style, this food is per­haps best con­sumed with a tall, cold glass of Kro­nen­bourg 1664. The French lager’s bub­bles dance with ev­ery bite of wellsea­soned steak frites — the meat a spot-on medium-rare and the fries ex­tra hot and well-done, as re­quested. Dip the skinny fries into creamy lemony aioli, then have a sip of Kro­nen­bourg to wash away the salt and fat, prim­ing the palate for an­other go.

Starr and Wallen stick with clas­sics through the end. Airy, eggy choux pas­try forms four con­nected prof­iteroles that are stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with a bar of choco­late that melts un­der a ta­ble­side pour of warm bit­ter­sweet choco­late.

Le Zoo’s prof­iteroles are nearly iden­ti­cal to a dessert that’s been on Parc’s menu since it opened in 2008 and ex­actly the same as the ones at Le Di­plo­mate. If they work for Starr in Philly and D.C., who can fault him for bring­ing them to South Florida?

Le Zoo suc­ceeds not by mak­ing din­ers feel as if they’re eat­ing in the North­east; it suc­ceeds by mak­ing us feel as if we’re in Paris. This part of Mi­ami needed a French brasserie as good as Le Zoo, and now I need more of its mushroom tart and steak frites.


Roasted chicken with pureed pota­toes at Le Zoo in Bal Har­bour.

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