The Menus of Madison County: Le Petite Maison

A French restaurant? Only 20 minutes from campus? I couldn’t believe it either, let alone expect authenticity or delectability. Thankfully, La Petite Maison (148 Main Street, Waterville) proved me so wrong on both counts. For anyone missing France, trying to earn bonus points in French class or just craving an indulgent meal that would have even Sarkozy exclaiming oh la la, this restaurant should be your top priority.

La Petite Maison, in fact, is located in a small house. The fa?cade of this pink restaurant reveals its illustrious history: In the 1800s, it was the home of a French noblewoman (one of Marie-Antoinette’s bridesmaids) who fled France during the Revolution and, for some odd reason, decided to settle in Waterville, NY until her death. This woman’s legacy certainly enchants her former home, as La Petite Maison serves up simple but delicious food that would rival any fine restaurant in France.

As someone who spent a considerable amount of time traveling around France last semester, I sampled more than my fair share of the local cuisine. The moment I stepped into this restaurant last weekend, I recognized the categorically French attention to detail: pressed tin ceilings, heavy wood tables and chairs, tapestries and oil paintings depicting old-time religious scenes that could have come straight from any chateau.

My dining companions (my parents) were also enamored by the décor. We found our table stocked with bread and butter and a beautiful arrangement of red and pink flowers. Tempted by the welcoming bounty, my anticipation was mounting.

La Petite Maison has a relatively limited menu (about four appetizers and six main dishes), but it is graciously supplemented by daily specials. For appetizers, we acquiesced to lobster ravioli and a warm salad of mushrooms sautéed in herb butter with bits of goat cheese. The ravioli appeared like small white pillows, delicately floating in a blush sauce. Divine. The mushroom salad, however, proved superior. Do you not like mushrooms? Just try this salad anyways. Cooked to perfection, caramelized and perfumed with delicate herbs, garlic and butter (of course), I could eat these mushrooms daily.

Despite a very high bar set by these appetizers, the main dishes did not disappoint. Neither of my parents could bear to order anything besides le canard aux fruits frais – or duck with fresh fruit. The dish was a half duck, partially de-boned with crispy skin and tender meat, in a very delicate berry sauce that came garnished with a few raspberries. Departing from my parents’ choice, I ordered one of the dinner specials, a filet mignon cooked venison-style. Unsure of exactly what that meant (I still don’t know after some Googling), I decided to take a chance since I was intrigued by the mention of a sauce made with red wine and cognac. Needless to say, I was not disappointed by the tender, expertly seared meat and flavorful sauce. All of the main dishes came with sides of wild rice and pureed beets (infinitely better than it sounds), with the servers offering second helpings of both.

My dad was willing to overcome our gluttony, and so we shared profiteroles for dessert – little puffs of pastry filled with cream on top of a rich dark chocolate sauce. What could be bad about that?

With the meal totaling $150 for the three of us (including a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, a very nice dry red wine), La Petite Maison might be best saved for the Francophile whose parents are visiting for the weekend. Just remember: La Petite Maison is only open from March to November, avoiding the cold weather months but somehow retaining that certain je ne sais quoi.