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Kitchen

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As the name suggests, the food here evokes the kind of kitchen you might have if you were a better, French-er version of yourself, a self with simple but impeccable taste and plenty of time on your hands to pickle your own vegetables and make your own terrine.

In the classic French bistro style, the menu is short, simple and devoid of trend and flash. The small plates—humble but exquisite dishes like grilled romaine with anchovies and caper berries ($8) and escargot in garlic cream ($10)—are lovely. You could easily make a meal from these elements without ever touching the main courses. But then you'd miss out on gorgeously understated dishes like seared salmon with green lentils and bacon ($17) and braised lamb shank with garlic mashed potatoes and steak frites ($18). The mussels and frites are especially satisfying and, at $13 a bowl, a genuine bargain. I'm a fan of the salty, leek-fragrant Basque version, one of four styles offered daily.

Desserts are equally simple: a toasted polenta pound cake with brown sugar sour cream ($5) and a crème brlée ($5).

The only off-note is the decor. The café's simplicity is undermined by oversized photomurals of the chef, along with wall-mounted signed T-shirts. Stuff like this might make sense in a celebrity-driven mega-restaurant (think Emeril, Bobby Flay) but it's puzzling in a Chapel Hill neighborhood bistro.

Fans are undeterred; the restaurant often has a line out the door on weekend evenings. If you find yourself in this position, just head next door to wait at the new Flyleaf Books, another local business we're very much hoping will succeed.

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