- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Proprietor Alain Matrat continues to deliver a slice of Paris to those new and old customers who visit his Annapolis dining room.

Considered by many as the Bay Country’s best French restaurant, Les Folies calls itself a brasserie in the Alsatian tradition.

Chef Jean-Claude Galan’s menu is long on French classics, with a few Spanish and Italian dishes tossed in.

Mr. Galan’s specials often outdo what is on the regular menu so try to order from both.

A diverse and reasonably priced wine list is heavy on French bottles, as it should be, but there is a nice selection of California vintages as well.

For a starter, think about ordering from the raw bar, as it is one-of-a-kind. You will notice “towers” of seafood being carefully whisked around the art deco dining room.

Maine belon and Virginia oysters, littleneck clams, periwinkles, stone crab claws, and langoustines are among the shellfish on the two-tiered “La Petite Folie” (medium-size tray for two for $45). The “La Grande Folie” (large-size tray for two for $90) is a tier taller and has more of everything, including Prince Edward Island rope mussels and a 11/4 pound whole cold Maine lobster.

Oysters and other shellfish, including the lobster, can be ordered a la carte.

For diners who prefer cooked shellfish, consider the moules Provencal — lightly baked mussels on the half-shell topped with garlic butter, herbs and bread crumbs.

Other starters include grilled portobello mushroom with a balsamic reduction; country pate with celeriac salad; a salad of endives, arugula, beets, walnuts and blue cheese; and a vegetable soup with pesto, white beans and Parmesan cheese.

As for the main plates, there is nothing so satisfying as cassoulet, a great brasserie dish — on a cold winter night. Les Folies’ version of this classic casserole appropriately includes lamb, garlic sausage, duck confit and white beans ($26). The cassoulet was luxurious and rich, bursting with flavor. The meats were all succulent and tender, with the sausage adding just enough spice to provide contrast.

Another special was the oven-roasted duck breast ($24) with dried-berries sauce and wild rice. Again, the meat was expertly prepared, moist and tender. The sauce was flavorful, but not too rich.

Whole fish of the day was a grilled Mediterranean sea bass ($28) in olive oil and herbes de Provence and garlic. The fish is prepared, then it is deboned at tableside.

The bass was perfectly grilled (with only a few bones missed) and was accompanied by miniature sugar snap peas and scalloped potatoes.

On the regular menu you will find butterflied sirloin steak with butter, shallots, and frites; oven-roasted rack of lamb with herbes de Provence au jus; calf’s liver sauteed with brown onions and sherry vinegar; and the traditional coq au vin, braised marinated chicken in red wine, with herbs, pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon.

There is a nice variety of desserts on the menu, plus several special selections. The dessert specialty is the souffle, with a choice of Grand Marnier, chocolate or raspberry. The chocolate version was rich yet very light, comfortingly warm and wonderfully flavored.

Turtle cheese cake and a crepe with caramelized apples were the evening’s specials, with favorites like bread pudding, creme brulee, and poached pears offered regularly.

The service was professional, knowledgeable and friendly.

Some can argue the brasserie may be a notch below the best Parisian originals. But Les Folies is by far the best French restaurant the Annapolis area has to offer.

RESTAURANT: Les Folies Brasserie, 2552 Riva Road, Annapolis; 410/573-0970; visit www.lesfoliesbrasserie.com

HOURS: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

PRICES: Soups and salads, $3.75 to $13.50; appetizers, $6.50 to $12.50; seafood raw bar, 50 cents to $24; main courses, $13.95 to $28; desserts, $4.50 to $7


CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site and complimentary valet parking on weekends

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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