Ávert: French Charm In West Hartford

The Hartford Courant

I have a few dining pleasures I particularly enjoy. Among them: French food, and French food prepared by executive chef David Borselle.

So I was excited when Borselle and French food turned up together in West Hartford Center.

Borselle, formerly the executive chef at Bar Bouchee in Madison (and once upon a time the chef at the Downtown Hartford Marriott's Vivo,) has teamed up with another one of my favorite chefs, Dorjan Puka, to open Ávert Brasserie at 35 Lasalle Road.

"We knew exactly what we wanted and where we wanted it," said Puka, formerly with the Max Group and who since has masterfully established himself as a top-shelf restaurateur with his first West Hartford restaurant Treva. "There was a niche for a French restaurant here, and it is something I always wanted to do."

Ávert (Treva spelled backward) has already wowed those who have dined there since the doors opened a couple of months ago: They are finding European charm and a taste of France in both the food and the mood of WeHa's newest eatery.

"We visited Paris and Lyon and took over 2,500 pictures of brasseries and cafes, looking for design elements we knew we wanted in Ávert," said Puka.

Walk in and you are immediately transported to a quintessential cozy French brasserie, thanks to soft French torch music and a decor boasting caged chandeliers with bulbs imported from France, handcrafted chrome railings (which in France serve as hat racks for the gentlemen), reclaimed wood floors, white-porcelain wall tiles, a marble-topped bar, zinc-clad counter tops and a handwritten menu on a massive antique mirror.

Even the table settings whisper Paree: Small, sweet French drinking glasses are carefully placed at each table setting in the main dining room. Are we in Paris? Mais oui. And this a place where the tastebuds of most any Francophile can be satisfied.

It only took a moment for me to choose my lunch; cheese-crusted sweet onion soup and a wine-laced braised beef bourguignon, two favorites I remember well from visits to France. And Borselle, who made quite the name for himself in Madison, did not disappoint with his version of the French classics.

"Nothing is pre-made here; everything is from scratch," he emphasized when he took me for a tour of the New York City-style prep kitchen in the renovated basement. "We make our own stock, no premade base."

But the menu offers oh-so-much more. Other French classics and comfort food include baked ham and cheese croque monsieur (make that a 'madame' with an added egg). Scottish salmon, steak frittes, coq au vin, trout grenobloise (meaning it is prepared in a sauce of brown butter with capers and parsley) and moules (mussels) frites.

Appetizers include classic escargots in shell, seared Hudson Valley fois gras, and duck leg confit. Interested in the classic cheese and cured meat tray? A nice choice of fromages and charcuterie are offered in servings meant to be shared. Other classic French dishes include pomme frites, roasted forest mushrooms and frisee aux lardons (farm fresh egg, smoked bacon and sherry vinaigrette).

One of the drawbacks of many French restaurants is that they are considered stuffy and overpriced. Puka and Borselle wanted something different.

"We want this to be a place to relax, to enjoy good food and friends, to relish wonderful food," Puka said. "We want people to experience many kinds of different foods and to do it without having to spend a lot of money or be uncomfortable."

Omar Arnaout, who makes all things sweet at Treva, is now doing dual dessert duty. Choices such as vanilla bean crème brulee, sundaes de crème glacee, chocolate pot de crème and profiteroles with chocolate sauce make saving room for dessert a must.

An extensive French wine list and interesting array of martinis are also part of the choices.

Lunch entrees range from $12 to $15 and dinner entrees from $15 to $29.

>>Ávert Brasserie, 35 Lasalle Ave., West Hartford, is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Brunch is served both those days. There is also Happy Hour each day from 4 to 6 p.m. Information: 860-904-6240 or avertbrasserie.com

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