La Cuisine - A Taste of Paris in Ocala

Given that Valentine's Day fell on a Monday this year, my wife and I opted to go out for a celebratory dinner this past Saturday night. Usually I reserve posts on restaurants for when we are out of town, as I want to avoid the the impression that meals on a random Tuesday at Chili's are up for review. However, given the number of upscale dining options which have opened in Ocala, I've decided to relax this policy from time to time. Such is the case with our dinner at La Cuisine.

Joining the ever growing scene in downtown Ocala, La Cuisine is one of several upscale eateries to have opened over the last few years, and is the only authentic French restaurant in the local area. The restaurant has received rave reviews on just about every outlet online, and in 2009 was recognized as one of the "Best New Restaurants" by Florida Trend Magazine. With that in mind, I decided that our Valentine's dinner was the perfect time to see if they really live up to all the hype.

La Cuisine is located in one of the best areas of downtown Ocala, set amongst several other popular restaurants and nightspots. As we entered the restaurant, the first thing I noticed were the gorgeous hand-scraped hardwood floors throughout, and the vibrant red, or should I say rouge colored walls. This aspect of the decor certainly gave the feel of a Parisian brasserie, however I found the numerous pictures of the Eiffel Tower and other French trinkets throughout a bit cheesy. Then again, I can recall American sports memorabilia adorning the walls of a pizza joint in Paris, so perhaps I should view this as simply an attempt to keep with a theme.

As we began to look over the menu, I was pleased to find our favorite champagne was available by the glass, and with it being a Valentine's celebration, we decided to begin with a pair. La Cuisine was off to a great start in my book, as it's not often that one can find Veuve Clicquot available by the glass. As it turned out, the feeling was short lived.La Cuisine Ocala
Before we even arrived at the restaurant, I had already decided to start with the "Shrimp Tartare" as my appetizer, as I had seen numerous posts touting this dish on the restaurant's Facebook page. It's safe to say that I was a little disappointed when the server informed us right off that they were out of the tartar for the evening. Usually I would just make another selection and move on, but I couldn't understand why the dish would be featured on the menu as "New," and then not be available at 7:30 in the evening. If a dish is only going to have limited availability, then it should be presented as a nightly special, as opposed to a permanent menu selection. Otherwise, the restaurant sets itself up to disappoint each and every guest that attempts to order the dish that evening, as was the case here.

With hopes for the tartare dashed, we opted for the "Mediterranean Vegetable Tart," which proved to be a worthy second choice. The dish was presented well, and the combination of textures between the portobello, artichoke, and other vegetables played well together. In addition, the portion proved plenty for my wife and I to share.
La Cuisine Ocala
From there we moved on to our main, which for me was a difficult decision as I was torn between three different dishes. Certainly the "Beef Bourguignon" would have been a hit, and the same goes for the "Honey Glazed Pork Jarret." But instead I opted for one of the specials of the evening, which was a sliced duck breast served with gratin dauphinios. While the duck was a little overcooked for my liking, it tasted fantastic and paired nicely with the potatoes. My wife opted for the organic filet mignon, which she also raved about, making the first time I can recall her being the "steak and potatoes" one between the two of us.

There were many great options for dessert, from which I chose the "Pain Perdu." Given that French toast and ice cream are two of my favorite things in life, it's safe to say only good can come from combining them into one dish. It was the best part of my evening, and it's my sincere hope they don't run out on my next visit.La Cuisine Ocala

Up until this point in the evening, with the exception of the lack of shrimp tartare, our experience had been a good one. The food was great, the wine exceptional, and the service outstanding. However, things took a bit of a turn when the server brought our bill and I presented her my American Express. Our server asked us in a very embarrassed manner if we had another form of payment, because even though the restaurant accepts Amex, they prefer not to unless there's no alternative as the fees are too high. Sure this wasn't a problem in terms of payment, as we used our debit card instead, but it left a terrible taste in my mouth right at the end of the meal. First, I couldn't believe that a fine restaurant would inconvenience their customer in such a tacky manner. But second, if an owner/management doesn't want to accept Amex, then they should have the courtesy to handle it with the guest personally, and not force their servers to do the dirty work for them. Not to mention, that I'm pretty sure such actions are in blatant violation of their merchant agreement with American Express. But alas....I digress.

So the question is...Will we be back? At this point, maybe. They say you only get one chance for a first impression, but the same thing also goes with last impressions. As great as the food may have been, I have a feeling that down the road all I'm going to remember from this meal is the situation with the Amex. This even considering the Pain Perdu....

Enjoy Your Stay
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