Oakwood’s French Connection
By Tom Baker
Since my last experience at C’est Tout, I’ve seen Dayton’s restaurant scene expand — the Greene and Dayton Mall introduced several new independents and chains alone — and shrink. One of the most recent and notable examples is the once Mobil-starred L’Auberge in Kettering, which has closed. Upon hearing this unfortunate news, it seemed an appropriate time to pay C’est Tout another visit.
C’est Tout is tucked into an office building just north of the Oakwood Dorothy Lane Market, and positions itself as a “French bistro at heart.” It comes across as something you might find in Provence, but the enclosed “patio,” ideal during the spring, would be open and you’d be looking over the Mediterranean while enjoying your coffee and crème brûlée. For now I’ll have to settle for looking out to Far Hills, but the sunlight and pleasant breeze make dining “outside” at C’est Tout very pleasant. The warmth of the interior colors and French country décor is nice, but I prefer dining al fresco — or as close to it as possible. C’est Tout’s Chef/owner Dominique Fortin, hailing from a small town in France about an hour south of Paris, brings decades of experience from across Europe and America to Dayton, including a rotation as Executive Chef of L’Auberge. Focusing on French dishes as well as new American and fusion cuisine, you can find most anything from pasta and burgers to a twist on the classic Escargot.
Lunch at C’est Tout is both business and pleasure appropriate. With around a half dozen specials in addition to the regular lunch menu, there is no shortage of options. You can get out for just under ten dollars, or you can go a la carte as I did to maximize the experience. I started with a very attractive and satisfying salad of Belgian endive, almonds, pears and bleu cheese, all lightly dressed with moscatel vinaigrette and garnished with shaved red beet ($6.50). The bitter endive, crunchy almonds, sweet pears, cheese and subtle dressing came together in fantastic unison — an excellent way to begin any meal. I followed the salad with an equally pleasing wheat pasta dish with sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers and horseradish-infused oil, finished with a tangle of fried leeks ($10.95). This is not a cheap lunch, but well worth the expense if you’re looking for a more thorough engagement. Lunch service was capable and attentive, but in no way obtrusive. I would certainly include C’est Tout on my list of business lunch destinations.
Dinner is just as pleasant as lunch, but not too fancy – I saw both jeans and ties worn on my last visit, so don’t assume you have to pull out your navy crested blazer. We started with two appetizers — the Fricassee of Snails, Wild Mushrooms and Scallions with Garlic Butter and Sweet Chili ($10.95), as well as the Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese “Won Ton” with Maple Ginger Glaze ($7.25). The snails were excellent, and any doubts about the addition of the sweet chili were squelched as we sopped up the sauce with their lovely fresh bread and roasted red pepper/garlic butter. The won tons were also surprising, but I found the pairing of the fried purses of potato and cheese with the unique and strong flavors of ginger and maple less than optimal. The sauce, however, stood well alone and I found myself revisiting it before the dish was removed. We also chose glasses of wine from the well-rounded and reasonable wine list, but had to wait for our presumably new but very friendly and helpful server to consult the bar in order to get our wine questions answered.
Dinner entrees unfolded in a similar manner. The Braised Monk Fish with Angel Hair, Shiitake Mushrooms and Snow Peas with Lobster Sauce ($24.75) was very nice, although the snow peas appeared julienned and nearly absent. The French classic Coq Au Vin ($19.25), braised chicken, lardon, mushrooms and pearl onions was also good, but was served with pasta. I would have preferred potatoes or simply more of their great bread with which to gather the rich, flavorful sauce. The only true miss of the evening was the house salads that came before our entrees — two anemic bowls of iceberg lettuce, carrot, and perhaps three halves of cherry tomato tossed in garlic vinaigrette left us scratching our heads. This was truly disappointing and out of step with the rest of the experience and menu, and the bowls left the table nearly full.
C’est Tout offers a handful of desserts that change daily, and your server delivers the details on the half dozen or so offerings, ranging from crème brûlée to house made sorbets. We settled on the Banana Cranberry Bread Pudding, a sweet and this time perhaps too custardy concoction with a bottom layer of sliced bananas and fresh cranberries. We finished our dessert and commented on the gentle breeze, friendly service and plans for a return visit for drinks and more snails, along with our hope that C’est Tout can survive what has been an increasingly difficult time for independent restaurants in Dayton and around the country.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.