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Dining Out: Chez Foushee

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If we're talking about life span, restaurant years are similar to dog years. Given how many restaurants don't make it past the three- or even one-year mark, it makes sense that 22 calendar years would theoretically give a restaurant approximately 150 years of experience.

This fall, Chez Foushee will be celebrating its 23rd birthday, a benchmark that becomes more impressive when you factor in this eatery's location.

Situated a block off Broad Street in what is now considered the city's arts district, Chez Foushee wasn't always surrounded by galleries, studios or even other restaurants. As recently as five years ago, the neighborhood to which we all flock on First Fridays didn't have much going on at all.

But Chez Foushee has managed to thrive in the same building all these years, a testament to its ability to change with the times.

When it opened in the fall of 1989, Chez Foushee consisted of a small deli and catering operation that offered boxed lunches. As business grew, so did the space.

Owner Andrew Hardie purchased the building in 1995, allowing the restaurant to host private dinners, cocktail parties and weekday lunch service. In 2008, First Fridays dinner service was added.

It took a few years, but with the help of new chef Josh Wood, Chez Foushee extended dinner service to every Friday and Saturday night. Wood, having honed his skills in New Orleans, has also added a French-Creole influence to the menu.

After easily making reservations on the website, my parents and I decided to give the new dinner menu a whirl.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is Chez Foushee's elegant yet friendly service. From the moment you walk in the door, you'll be greeted by a range of staff members, from servers to bartenders to Hardie himself. My most recent visit was no exception.

With white walls and tiered floors divided by trimmed archways, the dining room looks like one you'd find in a quaint bed and breakfast, with a similar cozy, welcoming vibe to match.

When we asked our server for appetizer suggestions, he raved about the fried oysters with melted Brie and wilted spinach ($10). I was skeptical about the Brie, but the soft, pungent cheese blended beautifully with the delicately breaded oysters, the puddle of citrusy beurre blanc enveloping each bit in indulgence.

In choosing entrees, I couldn't take my eyes off the pan-roasted grouper with mint pesto and smoked salmon ($25).

The interplay of the different textures and oils in the thinly sliced salmon and delicate white fish gave the dish complexity while the mint pesto added a quiet snap of zest. As with the oysters, lemon beurre blanc cloaked the dish in wonderful richness.

A crispy-skinned, roasted half Cornish game hen ($24) received a deep, savory burst from deliciously concentrated game hen ragout. Layered with heavy cream and Parmesan, potatoes Dauphinoise were a mellow counterpart.

Unfortunately, a bouillabaisse special ($23) fell flat. Although the tomato broth let the rockfish, rainbow trout and shrimp shine, accompanying red pepper rouille crostinis didn't have the spicy cayenne kick we were hoping for.

Although most of our entrees were rave-worthy, I was surprised at how small the portions were. I don't need a plate loaded high with guaranteed leftovers, but when we got the bill, the total sneaked up on me.

Luckily, the heavenly slice of lemon butter cake ($7.50), a Chez Foushee signature that we inhaled before the tab came, made our minor disappointments easier to stomach.

Sitting atop a thick, buttery crust, it falls somewhere in between lemon meringue and extremely dense cheesecake. And don't try to ask for the recipe. The restaurant won't even sell it to you.

Chez Foushee's latest additions, extended hours and the flavors of a new chef fit the formula that has made it such a longtime success — offer consistently upscale yet uniquely crafted fare with professional service in an elegantly approachable setting. Here's to many more years to come.

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