|Cookies! Even the cookies are exceptional.|
I can't talk enough about the desserts -- both in the restaurant and at its casual counter Le Comptoir. We have eaten almost everything that they offer. Probably a dozen trips in a single month -- mostly to carry out a box of cookies or pastries.
I think that I'm being even-keeled when I say that I have eaten 15 different cookies, eclairs and pastries and every one ranks among the best desserts around. Just last month, I emphasized how many great sweets are available in Howard County. But Petit Louis and Le Comptoir immediately leapt up to the absolute top tier, and you can't check it out fast enough.
Macarons with a changing run of imaginative flavors. Eclairs and financiers that shame regular pastries. Tiny fruit gels that are brilliant $1 bites. Cookies that even taste exceptional. Mrs. HowChow almost passed on the chocolate cookie after we walked around the lake. How special can a cookie be? It turns out that they can be amazing with a crisp exterior and a soft inside, rich with chocolate and perfect with coffee (and with a second cookie like the rosemary-scented heart-shaped one).
And don't get me started about the macarons. These trendy French pastries are basically sandwich cookies with merengues on the outside and a flavored filling. We have been infatuated for several years. I have carried macarons home from New York City. But I have never had better ones that Le Comptoir. The merengues are perfectly dry without cracking. The flavors are fresh and intense, strong with banana, peanut butter, pistachio-grapefruit, etc. They're the symbol of what I love about Petit Louis' sweets -- simple desserts that are so clearly not simple to create.
Now, a friend told me that he thinks Petit Louis became Howard County's best restaurant as soon as it opened. I'm excited if that is true. It may have been a mistake for us to eat there on a Monday night, but we were celebrating that day. Five occupied tables couldn't fill the room with any energy, and we got a waiter who was growing into the role.
As it was, we unintentionally ordered two fried dishes. I asked if the beignet was like the doughy fritter that you'd see in New Orleans. Now, I realize that the waiter's nod was probably based on politeness, not agreement. I got shrimp and vegetable tempura. Terrific tempura, but that wasn't what I had wanted. Then we got surprised again when Mrs. HowChow's desire for fresh fish got her fried cod. Again, real skill to fry that perfectly. Just not what she was looking for. I remember servers at other Foreman-Wolf restaurants, and I think they would have led us to dishes that we wanted.
Of course, the entire meal leads you to dessert, so you go out on a bang without any risk of translation. We went with Gateau Aux Fruits Exotiques and Pot de Creme Au Chocolat. They're intense flavors, rich but light enough that we walked out smiling and bubbly. Honestly, the fruits aren't that exotic -- passion fruit, coconut and pineapple. It's talent that intensifies the flavors in layers of cake and cream.
As I'm sitting here trying to explain why we're au septieme ciel over Petit Louis' sweets, my best explanation is that they don't taste of butter and sugar. You can always win over a table with dessert heavy with cream or sharp with sweetness. Each Petit Louis dessert leads with a flavor -- a fruit, an herb, that chocolate. They run from crunchy to creamy to gelled, but they each taste fresh and unique.
Seriously, you need to go check this out. Petit Louis serves high end French dinners, and the Foreman-Wolf team have been spectacular to offer you smaller options -- maybe just dessert in the restaurant, definitely sandwiches, quiche, coffee and sweets as takeout or sit down at the casual Le Comptoir next door.
A bunch of new restaurants have opened over the past two months. Practically, it will take a while for us to try them all. But I'm also being slow because I want these places to get up and running. I'm confident that the Petit Louis folks want Columbia to rival the Baltimore location, and I think that lakefront dining room will be a very special place. One meal shouldn't define any of the new endeavors.