Pretty in Pink

First Look: Tiny Lou’s

Tiny Lou's Steak Tartare
Photo credit: Angela Hansberger
Steak tartare dotted with whipped marrow can feed the table.
Related: See: Hotel Clermont

Descending the stairs, a retro neon sign throws strobes of blushing 80’s script spelling out “Tiny Lou’s.” The restaurant is awash in the elegance of the 1930’s glamorous, yet informal style. It also has a 40’s Hollywood vibe with pastel pink hues, plush velvet banquettes, shiny brass lighting, and curvy shapes.

It’s simply a gorgeous space to the finest detail, juxtaposition to the gritty Clermont Lounge below where the eponymous Tiny Lou used to dance in the 50’s when it was called The Gypsy Room. Others shimmied after her in The Jungle Room and later under its current moniker. The French-American brasserie is six years in the making of complete renovation of the 1920’s Clermont Hotel. It bridges eras and oozes sophistication at first glance. 

The vibe is refined and upscale but also convivial and cozy. We chat with the table close to us—very brasserie-like. Service is attentive but not fussy. The crowd is well-heeled but a few have come in from the rooftop bar in jeans and tees and fit in just as well.

Jeb Aldrich's steak frites in all it's succulent glory. Photo by Angela Hansberger.
Jeb Aldrich’s steak frites in all it’s succulent glory. Photo by Angela Hansberger.

Midway through service we spot Executive Chef Jeb Aldrich (Noble Fin, 4th and Swift, Joël) scanning the 100-seat dining room. His left arm bears a tattoo of Tiny Lou. He’s devoted.

The menu is a fine balance between decadent traditional French dishes and those with a lighter touch. Meat, fish, and vegetable flank a large listing of hors d’oevres, a couple of which make a decent meal. Servers highlight seasonal ingredients that are currently making dishes sing. Get sorted with an order (we had two) of house made melt-in-your-mouth brioche flecked with sea salt ($5).

Seconds later we were sharing tender mauve slabs of foie gras ($18) with orbs of grilled Asian pear and a swoosh of sweet and sour sauce caline. A yeasty Burgundian cremant from the all-French by the glass list lifted each mouthful with sizzling acidity. We ordered tartare ($14), a generous serving of hand chopped beef, well seasoned with capers, mustard oil, and thyme and topped with tiny dollops of whipped marrow and egg yolk.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best, right? Aldrich’s steak frites sous vide treatment with butter is to thank for its succulence ($25) . The meltingly soft interior and crisp crust comes topped with umami-laden sauce du Clermont. Fries are the perfect matchsticks tossed in parsley with crisp edges and fluffy middles. Similary, the Clermont burger ($15) ticks all the boxes. It’s hefty, juicy, and flavorful with two griddled patties, melty gruyere (very French) and bacon jam and a heap of frites.

Trout Almondine ($24) is French classic and Aldrich nails it. It’s fresh and light with two filets of local trout fried crisp along with a brown butter sauce. Almond slivers are toasted to bring out nuttiness while plump haricot verts and cipollini onion halves are simmered in almond milk to bring out almond flavors. It’s packed with textures and contrasts.

Underneath the verdant foam are Burgundian snails and caper cappelletti. Photo by Angela Hansberger.
Underneath the verdant foam are Burgundian snails and caper cappelletti. Photo by Angela Hansberger.

Speaking of textures and contrasts, order the duck consommé ($12). Order a couple for the table. Three wee foie gras dumplings arrive in a pristine bowl. A hauntingly good duck consommé is poured tableside, mingling with thin slices of breakfast radishes. Pickled apricots lend a burst of fermented acidity. A clean, bone dry muscadet from Loire with floral notes and subtle salinity was expertly suggested to pair with escargot ($12). This verdant dish of tender Burgandy snails swimming in a puddle of parsley pistou with cappelletti pasta wrapped around capers gets zing from pickled grapes and bitter notes from frisee. Both dishes reveal deep and fragrant flavors while tightly edited.

“Save room for dessert” is a maxim that holds true at Tiny Lou’s. Pastry chef Claudia Martinez’s desserts (7-$10) are much like the revamped hotel, artful with touches of homage and a bit of glam. The pretty plated brown butter blondie with curried bananas flambé is titled Ode to Blondie, The Clermont’s most legendary performer. Her crepe cake with citrus cream defies logic with seemingly dozens of thin layers. What blew us away was The Royale. The pertness and wobble of a chocolate mousse is presented with cardamom ganache, domes of coffee cream, and gold flakes. If Chihuli worked in chocolate it would look like this.

Pastry chef Claudia Martinez's decadent Royale. Photo by Angela Hansberger.
Pastry chef Claudia Martinez’s decadent Royale. Photo by Angela Hansberger.

The restaurant also has a dessert cart acquired from New York’s famed Quo Vadis in circulation. The brass beauty holds daily selections of pastries and cheeses. For something lighter, go for a trio of sorbets. The evening’s basil lime lingered on the tongue as we ventured home, reminiscing the memorable meal the entire way.

Tiny Lou’s is as much a feast for the appetite as it is for the eyes. Its pretty optimism is a much-needed contrast to the industrial restaurants of late. It celebrates honest food cooked with an attention to fine detail. It’s style and substance. It’s not just a dress rehearsal, Tiny Lou’s is ready to dance!

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