Opéras, traditional French pastries made of thin layers of cake, coffee-flavored butter-cream and chocolate icing, are easy to get wrong: The cake can be too dry, the layers too thick and overly rich, the glaze too hard. Plus, they tend to be considered old-school in the fine-dining world. Opéras can be difficult to find on a restaurant menu these days, even in France. So when an opéra is done right, as it is at Pomme, it is both a treat for the diner and a testimony to the chef's skills.
Also, the opéra cake on the menu epitomizes what chef Gerard Gasparini is trying to do at Pomme. "My style is classic French cooking with a touch of the chef," says the French native, "I try to cook things that you used to see on menus in French restaurants that French chefs don't make anymore."
The appetizer offerings read like a list of standards from a French country restaurant: paté ($7.50), white asparagus in vinaigrette ($8.50) and, of course, escargots ($10.50). The standout among the selections is, however, a nontraditional galette de crabe ($11.50), a crab pancake that gets a light, soufflélike texture from folded-in egg whites and is served with a tangy red-pepper sauce.
Dinner selections reveal more of the "touch of the chef" and a hint of his North American restaurant experience with a luscious pecan-crusted roast lamb loin ($29.50) and tender sliced duck with a maple syrup and Armagnac sauce ($23.50). If Gasparini has a signature dish, it is his filet de sole St. Germain, which a local customer orders two or three times a week. "One man who came from up north told me it was the best sole he'd had in 20 years," Gasparini says proudly. "And when I asked him about the sole he'd eaten 20 years ago, he told me he'd ordered it at the Wilburn Country Club in Connecticut, which is where I was working at the time, so we determined that was my sole fillet, too!"
But just how did this accomplished chef (he and the restaurant are mentioned in the 2005 MaŒtres Cuisiniers guide to noteworthy French chefs worldwide) make it to a sleepy little town like Gordonsville? "We had friends that had friends that had friends who lured us here," he says, laughing. "We didn't even know where Gordonsville was!"
Gasparini may not have known where he was going, but his arrival and the opening of Pomme have firmly placed Gordonsville on Virginia's culinary map. Already, diners are making the drive down from D.C. and up from Richmond to check out this maŒtre cuisinier on Main Street. Day-trippers cruising the area for wine tastings and antique deals have stumbled upon the aubergelike enclave, where you don't have to put on your finest to indulge in fine cuisine. So get on the bandwagon and get on the road. And whatever classic delicacy you order at Pomme, be sure to leave room for dessert. SPomme
($$$$)Tuesday-Saturday, noon-2:30 p.m. and 6-8:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, noon-2:30 p.m.
115 S. Main St., Gordonsville
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