French Restaurant Le Clos is “Le Close” to Excellence

Though we have lived on Amelia Island for nearly two years now, my husband and I finally dined at the well-known Le Clos restaurant this past Friday evening. I had seen Le Clos garner high reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp, my go-to places to scout out restaurants before I take the plunge and eat there. When it comes to restaurants, I am risk-averse and prone to visiting favorite joints, over and over again. Thus we patronize David’s for more formal occasions, Espana or La Mancha when we crave tapas, paella and sangria, Tasty’s for burgers, and my favorites, Pablo’s and San Jose Mexican Grill (in Yulee) when my Texas-sized craving for food like home (re: Austin) emerges.

I had no doubt that Le Clos would hit the mark, but I have hesitated in making a reservation there because I wasn’t sure if I would appreciate the French food, perhaps too sophisticated for my taste. While deciding on a date night locale, I scouted out the menu and website and found some promising leads such as salmon (my stand-by entree; I don’t do steak) and a few appealing appetizers. To be honest, I usually have my entire meal picked out from salad to dessert before I have even arrived at a restaurant. We put in a reservation request on Le Clos’s website, as we had heard the restaurant fills up quickly, and we received a personal response via email.

The day of our dinner, Le Clos called and offered us an earlier, more desirable time slot on their patio. I was impressed that they called and must have remembered our earlier request for a peak dinner slot. The day was clear and beautiful, so we accepted their offer of an earlier time and outdoor seating. When we arrived at the quaint and charming cottage that dates back to the early 1900s, the hostess immediately asked us our last name to access the reservation. The couple behind us then seemed nervous, as they had not made a reservation, and usually on Amelia Island, you can stroll into a joint and be seated within minutes. Not at Le Clos – it’s best to call in advance (and not the day of) to make your reservation.

We were promptly seated on a charming outdoor patio area that overlooked 2nd Street and the colorful Hampton Inn. We felt like tourists in a different city from our new vantage point. A charming white picket like railing bordered the patio with vibrant blooms of magenta flowers. The setting called to mind dining outdoors at a cafe in France. I glimpsed the inside of the restaurant during our meal, and the indoors is just as charming and cozy.

Our waitress was very personable and experienced. After receiving our customary tap water, a younger lady stopped by and poured us some sparkling water out of a bottle, leaving a few limes to enhance the flavor. We were both surprised and pleased with this touch of sparkling water, which also reminded me of Europe. We decided to share the Salade Le Clos, a very colorful and flavorful house salad including spinach, field greens, a little goat cheese and the perfect amount of balsamic vinaigrette. We also ordered an appetizer version of a scrumptious sounding fish cake that the chef had whipped up that evening to be served as a starter or a larger portioned entree.

For our drinks, we settled on a bottle from the Cotes du Rhone region of France, which I always find to be a good value on the menu while not lacking in quality. Le Clos serves only beer and wine, so that is something to consider if you have a whiskey or scotch drinker in your company.

While mulling over our choices, the younger waitress stopped by our table and abruptly snatched the glasses of sparkling water. Our assigned waitress showed up at the same time, and one of them explained that another table had ordered the sparkling water. The more senior waitress indicated that the younger woman was “in training” as an explanation for the mix-up. I really hope that the younger server didn’t transport our partially drunk water glasses to the table across the way.

I have no idea why they didn’t simply leave the water glasses on our table and not say anything about the mistake. Is carbonated water really so valuable that our drinks must be confiscated? I can think of much lower-budget chain restaurants where the server would likely say, oops, our mistake, but we’ll let you drink it. We’re not talking about forty-year-old scotch here. The sad part was my husband was really excited about the sparkling water, and I had commended the restaurant for the nice touch.

Despite the waitress’s faux pas, I was determined not to let something so trivial ruin our experience. It was time to order our entrees, and Alex decided on the salmon, whereas I chose the special, the grouper. In the meantime, our salad arrived, which they nicely split into two portions. (We frequently share a salad because we don’t want to fill up too much before the main course.) Sadly, the kitchen forgot to send out the fish cake special, and we chose not to say anything, as we realized the omission when our entrees arrived, and I didn’t want to eat fish and a fish cake at the same time.

The Salade Le Clos was a tasty and colorful salad. I slightly prefer the similar Ensalada Ciudad Real salad at La Mancha, with its more generous allotment of goat cheese medallions and fried beet chips, but the Salade Le Clos is probably healthier and less caloric while exhibiting great flavor.

The slightly encrusted grouper was accompanied with a beurre blanc (sauce) and julienne vegetables and whipped potatoes. My husband’s salmon was similarly presented but had been cooked in parchment paper. Our fish was delectable, and between the two of us, we ate every bite. I would order the grouper again in a heartbeat.

For dessert, we shared the chocolate cake (a/k/a the “gateau au chocolate with creme anglaise”). Nary a crumb was left on our dessert plate when we finished inhaling the sweet treat. Next time I may order my own slice so that I can devour the entire piece.

We received our bill, which was not for the faint of heart (a second bottle of Cotes du Rhone somehow snuck onto our table), and we noticed the missing fish cake appeared on our tab. We brought the error to our waitress’s attention, and she promptly apologized, said she would talk with the kitchen, and removed the charge. We enjoyed chatting with her about her personal history living on the island and how we might run into each other at Publix. She was definitely an asset to the restaurant. There appeared to be a mix of more seasoned waitstaff and younger servers, but this is simply based on my observations and experience with the sparkling water debacle.

Overall, of the restaurants we have frequented on the island, we still rank The Ritz’s Salt first and David’s a close second. The times we have dined at David’s have been simply flawless, and its prices are quite comparable to Le Clos’s. I would dine again at Le Clos because of the quality of the food — the owner/chef has an impressive history and trained at the Ritz-Paris — and the charming and unique cottage which houses it. However, I feel they need to ensure that the entire staff rises to the level of excellence set by their chef and more experienced waitstaff.

I do recommend Le Clos, but make a reservation in advance, and budget for an expensive bill if you will be ordering various courses (even if some are shared) and a bottle (or two) of a reasonably priced wine.

Next up on the menu: Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro or Horizons

What is your favorite restaurant on Amelia Island?