The menu says that you're dining in "your neighborhood bistro," but that's a simplification. Very few suburban neighborhoods, this side of the Atlantic, have bistro food like the Cafe de Paris in Laurel.
Decorated in a cozy but understated fashion, the restaurant uses candles atop crisp white linen tablecloths and dainty white lace curtains to create an atmosphere for comfortable, intimate dining.
Food is foremost on the minds of all who work there. Our waitress answered all our questions and gave recommendations from the menu and from the extensive wine list.
For appetizers we started with the Saumon Marine Maison (house-cured salmon, $4.75), sliver-thin and topped with capers and thinly sliced onions, the sides of the plates sprinkled with ground black pepper. It was delicious with the French bread, baked in nearby Savage Mill, Md. We were also tempted by the Portobello Grille (portobello mushrooms with goat cheese, $4.75), marinated in a tangy balsamic vinaigrette and a green olive oil. The mushrooms were sliced and presented in a star shape, with crumbled goat cheese cascading from the center.
For the main course I chose Filet Grille (grilled beef fillet with shallot sauce, $21.95). Two fillets, tenderly cooked, were presented with garlic potatoes and a succulent baked tomato, its top cut off, with the remainder rolled in finely ground bread crumbs. All sat atop the shallot sauce, which had also been poured over the beef. My companion had the Medallion de Porc Grille (pork medallions with garlic mashed potatoes, $18.50), tender and juicy meat accompanied by the creamy smooth potatoes and spears of fresh steamed broccoli.
To finish off, we tried their apple tart and creme brulee. The tart was a long rectangular creation with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top; the apples were crisp and tart, a bit of cinnamon the only addition to the fruit's natural sweetness. The creme brulee was smooth and creamy, the caramelized sugar on top a thin layer perfectly browned.
Daily offerings are also enticing. An early bird special--three courses served between 4:30 and 6 p.m. ($19.99)--consists of the soup du jour or mixed greens with an entree and any dessert. Additionally, the dinner formule is comprised of an appetizer, main course and dessert for $25.95.
Cafe de Paris, Laurel Lakes Center, 14252 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, Md. 20707. Call 301-490-8811. Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.
CAPTION: Erik Rochard, owner of Cafe de Paris, with chef Vincent Drago.