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Vin De Set's New Menu is Part Classic, Part Modern, and All Good

Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts

2017 Chouteau
Lafayette Square
Lunch Tue–Fri, dinner Tue–Sun

Average Main Course: $20
Dress: Shoot the gap between that Hermès scarf and your black beret.
Reservations: Vin de Set is popular in all seasons—so yes, at all times.
Chef: Ivy Magruder

Is aioli the new ketchup? We’re seeing it more frequently around town, including on a recent visit to try chef Ivy Magruder’s new semi-French menu at Vin de Set. The menu includes a delightful collection of dishes—traditional enough to thrill bistro devotees, but modern enough to provide new tastes and combinations. Best of all, Magruder executes it with style.

And so we sat in the small second dining room, where the menu listed such dishes as onion soup, croque-monsieurs, five different mussel preparations, ratatouille—and more. Frog legs, no longer a novelty (an apparent response to the skyrocketing price of chicken wings), are flash-fried and served with a tarragon aioli; the meat isn’t overcooked and the aioli is excellent. Pork belly, smoked and cooked gently sous-vide, sits on white beans and wears thin ribbons of fried leek, the flavors mixing to fine effect. We saved some aioli for dipping the frites; garlic mayonnaise is made for good fries like these, and the tarragon improves it.

Two fat ravioli are stuffed with chopped, braised short rib and pair well with a wonderful carrot purée. A crepe is stuffed with smoked salmon, mascarpone, capers, and shallots. And a holdover from a previous menu, the Alsatianesque tarte flambée—a flatbread with bacon, onions, and Gruyère cheese—remains a winner.

There’s duck confit, of course, but it’s called buttermilk-fried confit. It includes a leg quarter of rich, tender duck under the breading—all on a mound of mashed potatoes, slightly lumpy and generously seasoned, topped with a bacon-sage sauce that looks like milk gravy. Braised lamb shank has that same moist, tender quality, its sauce mostly pan juices with a little rosemary.

We counted three vegetarian entrées, but we succumbed to the meat. Oxtail is rarely seen on local menus, and it’s a shame; for those who like osso bucco or lamb shank, the meat has that same rich quality, and here it’s braised in red wine. The star of the evening, though, was the veal liver, seared and sliced, then served atop smaller slices of portobello mushrooms in a sauce that uses port wine, giving it a sweet-and-sour kick. A generous number of steamed fingerling potatoes soak up the juices. The combination of flavors and textures is vibrant.

It might be odd to think of a chocolate dessert as light, but such is the case with Vin de Set’s chocolate soufflé roulade. A fluffy batter is baked in a wide, shallow pan, then covered with whipped cream and rolled; vanilla-bean ice cream sits alongside, and another dollop of whipped cream finishes things off. It’s perfect after a rich entrée. A cheese platter—available on the menu as a first course—is also served as a dessert. Besides the usual fruit and bread, the plate includes a roasted eggplant spread, a little tapenade, and dice of spicy tomato aspic, a Mad Men–like garnish.

In addition to an impressive wine list, the menu includes some classic cocktails. Our sidecar of brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice was excellent, cold and smooth. The French 75—made with gin, champagne, lemon juice, and Grand Marnier—was less successful, arriving only a couple of degrees below room temperature and tasting far too sweet.

Set up on busy nights, the second dining room, several steps below the main dining room, has a view of the kitchen. The noise level is mellow, just right for a quartet of high-verbals at dinner. And though the place was rocking, service was first-rate.

The Bottom Line:  In a French city with few French restaurants, Magruder's decision to lean in that direction hits home.

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