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First Bite: La Cabane On Taojiang Lu

Apr 1, 2015 | 14:13 Wed
This “Salad, Toast, Fondue” restaurant La Cabane opened up recently at the intersection of Taojiang and Dongping Lu. Used to be a pricey kitchenware shop, or maybe it was The Villa. Now it’s a French-Swiss après-ski “cabin”. Lots of cheese. Cheese in almost everything they serve. Do we need pints of salty, melted cheese to wash down Shanghai’s smog and rain? Let’s see.

La Cabane bills itself as "An affordable French restaurant opened by the guys behind La Crêperie". They have a pretty large space, with room for about 50 to sit down. French house and swing on the system, playing loud enough that you notice. Everything’s wood with sloping ceilings and vintage sleds nailed to the walls. Convivial, probably, if the place was packed and noisy. At 7pm on a Thursday, with rain pissing down outside, it felt a little gloomy.

The menu isn’t huge. Soup, four types of cheesy salad, half a dozen toasted sandwiches -- twists on the croque monsieur -- and then fondue. The only cheese-free items are two pasta dishes and a duck magret that comes with a side of French fries or ratatouille.

Things started very well with a classic French onion soup, topped with melted cheese and croutons. It was served in enameled, cast iron cookware, and I could have drunk that thick, lumpy goodness by the pint. The “Vosgienne” salad was hearty but less inspiring: potatoes, chunks of bacon, cubes of Compté cheese, croutons, and a poached egg -- it was no more than the sum of its parts. The cheese provided most of the flavor, but it felt like something any of us could have chopped together at home.

A word on the drinks -- we started with a glass of red. Not great, so we switched to a different one. Not great, so we switched to beer. They have three types of good beer on draft, including Delirium Tremens, the 8.5% Belgian ale that won “world’s best beer” in 2008. You usually only see it in little opaque bottles. It’s great stuff and nice to see it here on tap, though it’s as heavy as lead and with the amount of stodge the kitchen was bringing out, I was already feeling bloated when main course arrived.

When it did -- the duck magret -- it was weak. Very rare but still tough and chewy. We didn’t touch much of it, and instead poured its black pepper sauce over the side of fries it came with. More stodge.

The last dish to arrive was a croque madame, the saucy cheese-and-ham toasty that’s served with a fried egg on top. It was good, the cheese was tasty and so on, but there’s only so much bread and cheese and potato and beer a man can stomach in one night, even an Englishman.

For large groups and Frenchies jonesing for a cheese fix, this place would work. But heading into spring and the heat of summer, I don’t know how many people are going to crave this level of stodge. If I went back, it would be for a pint of that good beer and a bowl of soup, no more. A meal for two with two glasses of wine and two beers was almost 600rmb, which also felt a little steep for salads and sandwiches, though we did over-order. Note: right now it’s cash-only.

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