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Walk down Biscayne Boulevard around 72nd Street, definitely a still-funky part of town, where it looks like an army of giant gophers has chewed up the area, leaving behind piles of debris, huge hulking pieces of machinery, and roads not fit for a Martian demolition derby. In a thoroughly unassuming (and distressingly common) Miami strip mall, push open the doors of an equally thoroughly unassuming little restaurant: Café Le Glacier.
That's your twenty-dollar bill.
The twenty-buck analogy is a good one, because at Café Le Glacier a double sawbuck can get you a filling and satisfying three-course meal -- simple, hearty dishes that are well-prepared and flavorful, plus a glass of sturdy red or white wine, plus the chance to hang out with some friendly people who are running the kind of sweet little neighborhood restaurant the long-suffering Upper Eastside neighborhood could really use.
Like Le Glacier itself, the menu is small and unpretentious -- French, sort of, with sandwiches, lasagna, and chicken caesar salad to go along with Gallic fare such as onion soup, quiche, lamb Provençal, and crème brûlée. It's cheap too. The most expensive dish, at a stratospheric $11.95, is grilled salmon. Half a roast chicken napped with a tangy Dijon mustard sauce costs two bucks less. Begin with a cup of onion soup for $3.95 and end with a scoop of unconscionably good gelato for $2.75 and, well ... you do the math.
You could do a whole lot worse than to start with that onion soup. Made with chicken stock instead of beef and consequently much lighter on the palate, it's full of onions cooked to an almost molten texture and capped with a thick layer of faintly browned, elastic Swiss cheese. Le Glacier also serves escargots, a bit of a surprise but an always welcome excuse to consume immodest quantities of garlicky, parsley-flecked butter. In a nifty touch, the kitchen tops each snail with half a raw mushroom, which partially cooks in the mollusks' residual heat and adds even more pleasure to the consumption of breath-perfuming cholesterol.
Caesar salad is another pleasant surprise, for so many of these salads with imperial pretensions aren't fit for a starving peasant. This one boasts a very mustardy vinaigrette with a pronounced hit of anchovy over plenty of chopped romaine, studded with crunchy croutons.
The half-chicken isn't half bad, a touch dry but with nicely browned skin, tender meat, and that good Dijon mustard sauce. Good, too, is the lamb Provençal, small chunks of fork-tender meat in a thin but savory broth, enlivened with onions and strips of red pepper. Entrées also come with rice and a fine ratatouille that's tasty enough to be served on its own.
Then there's crème brûlée for dessert. It's a creditable version, not terribly vanilla-y or as silken-smooth as some, though certainly worthy of your appetite, especially since a single serving is plenty of sweet-treat for two.
But there's a reason they call this place Café Le Glacier, and it's the selection of gelati, made by Dolce Vita. They're simply terrific, with bracingly intense flavor and a light yet unctuous texture. Dulce de leche is achingly luscious, all dark, smoky caramel; passion fruit is truly wicked, like peak-of-the-season ripe fruit melted down and chilled and spooned into your mouth by celestial virgins. One scoop and you'll know that not only does God like you, but also She wants you to eat at Café Le Glacier.