Thursday, November 17, 2011

Family French Night at Gemmell's

34471 Golden Lantern St.
Dana Point, CA 92629

Real French food has been a mystery to me. I have had escargot, crepes, and croissants before, but I am talking real French food here, with the heavy sauces and difficult names. It is not that I do not like French food, but I have just not gotten around to having it until now. I had bought a Groupon for Gemmell's, so I would be getting $50 worth of food for $25. This way, if I did not enjoy the French food, I would not have to pay too much. As a double bonus, Katie's entire family would be coming with us. So, we would be able to look at more dishes, but the downside of that is that her sister Sara was going to be coming with us. Just kidding Sara!

Gemmell's is located in the harbor area of Dana Point. We got here at about six on a Thursday night. The crowd here is definitely on the older side, and the decor matches the clientele. We were seated on the enclosed patio in the front of the restaurant. The space was loud and cramped, even with just one other party of six dining out there with us.

Gemmell's has been around in its present location since 2000. There actually is a Gemmell, and he is the owner and chef of this restaurant. He has a long resume of places he has worked in and out of OC. After waiting for the final portion of our party to arrive, we ordered and this is how it all came out.

We were presented with the bread basket above. The bread here came out very hot, but the bread was nothing special.

Katie has really surprised me lately with some of her food choices, and her appetizer choice here was no exception. She had the Feuillette, which is puff pastry in a creamy white wine sauce, served with asparagus. This appetizer was simple, yet delicious. The puff pastry was cooked to perfection, and the wine sauce was really tasty. We would definitely get this again.

For shock value of course I had to go with the Casserole of Escargots. These Helix snails were sauteed in a Burgundy sauce, along with diced ham, garlic, mushrooms, and shallots. I have had escargot numerous times, but this is the first time I had it prepared this way. I was a little disappointed with the amount of snails I received, but the ones I did have tasted pretty good. The sauce was good, and after I was done with the escargot, I sopped up the rest of it with the bread.

The first of our trio of soups that our party ordered was Kevin's selection, the Lobster Bisque. He felt the taste of this soup was spot on and smooth, but he was a little disappointed that there were no pieces of lobster in this bisque.

The patriarch of the family, Dennis, went with Cream of Mushroom Soup. He was not wowed by his choice, calling it, "just okay, nothing special". Sorry the picture of this was so bad, I was halfway across the table from him.

Of course you can not go to a French restaurant without someone getting French Onion Soup. Here it was Katie's turn to have this classic soup. The onion soup here is topped with croutons and Gruyere cheese. I ate half of this soup, and felt it was pretty good. I liked the sweetness of the onion to go along with the saltiness of the broth. They really balanced each other out. Of course the cheese was a great part of this as well. Very solid.

Both of these meals were basically the same, so I lumped them together here. The Angel Hair Pasta comes with chicken or shrimp, and this was ordered both ways by my table mates. The pasta was prepared with vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The result was a light tasting dish, that got rave reviews from not only the pasta, but the chicken as well. Sara, even called it, "the best chicken I have had in a restaurant!" That might be a stretch, but I tried some, and it was very tender.

Lynn was feeling shrimp too, so she had the Shrimp Provencale. This shrimp dish combined basil, parsley, Roma tomatoes, and capers, along with rice and vegetables. She seemed very pleased with this meal. The shrimp were cooked well, and the sauce was very satisfying.

One last pasta dish, I promise. Katie kept the pasta theme going with the Gemelli Pasta. The pasta came with a Dijon mustard sauce, shrimp, and veggies. I am not usually a big fan of mustard sauces, but this one was pretty good. The mustard was a little more subdued here. Katie also felt that they were very generous with the shrimp on this.

Well you can count on me to buck the trend and not order pasta. Chef Byron's Roasted Duck called, or should I say quacked my name from the minute I looked at the menu. This Napa duck was sliced and served in a sauce made from banana liquor and a dark rum reduction. It was also paired with caramelized bananas, which I felt was odd, but did not get in the way of this great tasting bird. The duck itself was cooked to perfection, and the portion size was very generous. The vegetables were okay, and the potatoes were better than that.

Now on to dessert, and you probably can't tell what our first one is because of all the fruit covering this, but it is Creme Brule. This mountain of fresh berries was very fresh, and really out shined the creme brule. It was decent, but nothing that I would rave about.

Just like the pasta dishes, almost everyone got tarts for dessert. Above are the Blueberry Tart and the Lemon Tart. The lemon tart really took its name to heart because it was very tart. Wow, that is a crazy rhyme! Maybe I should pursue my dream of becoming a famous food rapper, they could call me Vanilla Ice Cream. Okay, maybe that is not such a great idea. Anyways, I did not really care for this at all. The blueberry tart was way more mellow, and a lot better.

Dennis always loves ice cream, and here was no exception. I did not get his reaction from this Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream, but he did finish it all, and really how bad could ice cream ever be. I also wanted to include this picture because I liked that it included the ice crystals on the scoop.

It has almost become tradition now, whenever we go out to eat with the whole family, I have to include a picture of the pride and joy of the family, Emily.  So here is this installment. Thanks for the great photo Em, the camera loves you!

Okay, so the food at Gemmell's was very solid. For the most part everyone really liked what they ordered. The food came out nice and hot. The prices were a little on the high side, but nothing too crazy. Prices for entrees were in the $16 to $30 range. The decor seemed a little dated. The one big drawback here was the service. The food came out very slow, and the servers seemed overwhelmed by our party of eight. The entire meal took three hours, which is far too long. The waiters were not too quick on refills, and other assorted things. We might have just caught them on a bad night. The food was good enough that we would give them another try. After eating here, I am looking forward to trying more French food in the future.

Out of five tall ships, (because the city of Dana Point hosts the Tall Ships Festival every September), five being best to zero being worst, Gemmell's gets 3 tall ships.

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  1. I have to say this looks like someone's interpretation of French food after reading about it on Wikipedia. I'm not sure how much of this would actually appear on a menu in France.

  2. Dave - As I was writing this I was thinking the same thing. Any tips you can give me on finding an authentic French place would be appreciated. Thanks for the comment.