Open weekdays, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p. m. Closed Sundays. No credits cards, No reservations. Food: French, with inconsistency you can count on Style: Unpretentious neigbourhood cafe Price: Inexpensive to moderate Until La FOURCHETTE Opened, Adams Morgon was an area where you could eat Latin food, Cuban food, Spanish Food, and more of the same. So, Starting a French Cafe took courage, and caused a great flurry of excitement. But as the applause begins to die down, the restaurant needs a small injection of stamina. Like the neighbour, La Fourchette has a solid core of charm, but displays a little raggedness around the edges.
I don't mind the tiny tables for two where four have to dine, or the wooden church-pew benches, or the waiters in the jeans. These fit the tone, a brick-walled cafe with an ornate tin ceiling, a room whose main decorations are old prints, woven mats, a few plants, coat hooks and intense young patrons. Prop your well-thumbed Kafka on the red-checked plastic tablecloths, and you could omagine yourself as a student in Paris or Bologna or Berlin.
The menu is small, as are most of the prices - $1.50 to $3 for sandwiches, omelets and salads, $4.50 to $4.95 for daily soecial main dishes, $1 to $2.40 for appetizers, $1 for desserts. A carafe of wine is $2.60, or a bottle from the short list of French wines is as little as $5.25. Thus, a light meal could be less than $5; a three-course dinner with wine as high as $12. There is something filling and good at all price levels.
But after an optimistic first visit, I found each subsequent one a precarious balance of pleasures and dispointments.
One asset of LaFourchette - an admirably rare rib steak sauced with a fine bearnaise and priced at a noteworthy $4.95 - was too good to be true, so it disappeared from the menu. Watercress soup, a limpid emerald-green broth, continued to be a staple, and continued to tate pallid, more like potato than like watercress.
Another asset is the excellent thickM foamy vinaigrette, pungent with mustard, which is tossed in the salad, poured over the mussels, offered as a dip for the artichokes. But vinaigrette can't carry a restaurant when - as I subsequently experienced - the artichoke arrives waterlogged, the salad is drowning in a half-inch pool, and the mussels are so gritty that we reluctantly left them, in defence to our teeth.
The printed menu - a couple of substantial salads, three sandwitches, omelets of greater size than character, a creditable quiche and soundly seasoned and elegantly constructed house pate - serves well enough for a neighbourhood cafe. But the daily specials are the real attraction, at least on the good days. There might be rabbit saute chasseur or coq au vin. The brains one day were a delectable rendition of creamy sauteed brains under a hail of capers, tiny cubes of lemon, and crip, buttery miniature croutons. And fish has been carefully sauteed until golden, then topped witha sea of juicy mushrooms. Yhen there are days when the fish tastes aggressive and its sauce is reminiscent of aCampbell's While every dish I have tried has been grandly sauced - in a tarragon cream or a russet winey blend - each has suffered the stale taste of reheating. Boiled potatoes one day were freshly cooked; another day, the side dish was frozen mixed vegetables cooked to a stage just short of suitable for backpacking. The fruit tarts look imposing, but they are soggy by dinner time. And the chemical tang of the whipped cream in the chocolate mousse and peach melba taste like an insult.
When the food id good, one celebrates at any price, but particular when the top price on the menu is $5, and those usually wonderful mussels vinaigrette are a mere $1.75. And one has to be grateful for La Fourchette's filling a need in the neighbourhood. But with the talent that shows on the good days , one must assume laziness or disdain on the bad days, I wish I could tell you how to know when it is the right fork.