Here’s a little ray of sunshine amid the doom and gloom of the current local restaurant climate: Lavendou, named one of the 12 best new restaurants in this magazine in 1997, is still one of the city’s top dining experiences. The little Provence-inspired bistro is trapped in a nondescript strip shopping center in Far North Dallas. Yet on a recent Saturday night, every seat in the house was taken, which contributed to the warm, convivial vibe. While the service was sluggish—it could have been the massive party in the back—all annoyances fell away when we dug our little forks into fat escargot bathed in butter, crackling garlic, and parsley. To follow, fresh and lightly dressed baby greens topped with Parma ham, pine nuts, and warm, crisped discs of goat cheese—a happy departure from Caesar. The mains shined just as brightly. Fork-tender filet arrived as rare as requested, hiding under a blanket of brandy cream sauce flecked with peppercorn; a pastry shell held skillfully prepared shrimp and scallops mingling with mushrooms and spinach in a dreamy herbed cream sauce. Our only quibble were the pommes frites, which lacked that crispy crunch. But they could not dampen this delightful dinner, which didn’t put a dent in our pocketbooks, either.

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