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Restaurant review | Life partners’ petite Le Patio in Wilton Manors has outsized charms

BY ROCHELLE KOFF, rkoff@MiamiHerald.com

lepatio Le Patio is so diminutive, its owners call it ``the tiniest, cutest restaurant in South Florida.'' If you happened to drive past the little venue on a Wilton Manors side street, you could blink and miss it. But with delicious dishes at recession-busting prices -- the most expensive is $12.95 -- Le Patio has been thriving since it opened in September.

The place only has two tables inside and four seats at the bar, with prime seating under the stars on the patio, a cozy, fenced setting with romantic lighting.

Wherever you sit, you can breathe in heady aromas of garlic, onion and basil wafting from the minuscule kitchen and listen to the favorite tunes of owners Jean Doherty and Vero Leroux, whose eclectic menu melds French bistro fare with American comfort food.

Doherty and Leroux don't even have room for a coffee pot, though they do offer a nice, affordable selection of French and California wines.

They rent a nearby caterer's kitchen, where they spend the morning cooking. They serve lunch, then rush back to prepare dinner and bring back more food that they heat up in convection ovens to supplement what they can cook on premises. They're a two-woman show, handling all the service and cleanup.

Partners in life as well as business, French native Leroux and Irish-born Doherty came to South Florida from the south of France, where they owned a Tex-Mex restaurant-bar and an Irish pub. In 2007, they opened Sugar n Spice in Fort Lauderdale, but couldn't survive in the Oakland Park location. Le Patio is a different and, so far, successful story.

French onion soup topped with bubbling Gruyère was a welcome warm-up on one of the coldest nights of the year -- much better than a special of thin potato leek soup we had on a previous visit.

Family style is a good way to dine here, so you can sample a lot of dishes.

Among hot starters, we loved the juicy tomatoes -- three halves strewn with herbs de Provence and bread crumbs -- and the escargot, a dozen little snails available as a starter or entree in a classic garlic-butter sauce.

Though not house-made, there's a winning assortment of lavish country French, chicken-liver and pork pâté served with cornichons, Dijon mustard and sliced baguettes.

Salads include fresh greens tossed with lightly cooked green beans and a garnish of roasted goat cheese spread on toasty baguette slices. Le Patio also offers staples like Caesar and Greek salads and shrimp cocktail.

The homey mac and cheese, actually a Paul Bocuse recipe, brings a smile. Lasagne is another pasta standout, four layers of ground beef, mushrooms and onions in a bolognese sauce with a hint of béchamel. Lobster and spinach ravioli bathed in a lavish champagne cream sauce is a wonderful indulgence.

A spice mix the couple's daughter sends from Ireland adds zip to a homey shepherd's pie topped with mashed potatoes. There are also quesadillas, including one filled with bolognese sauce and topped with Gruyère -- sounds odd but it all jives.

Dessert brings more surprises. A warm, homemade tarte tatin is delightful -- caramelized apples baked in a ramekin with a pastry crust and served upside down with whipping cream. Peaches with roasted almonds, a crumble crust and cream is another treat.

Good things truly do come in small packages at this petite charmer.

IF YOU GO

Place: Le Patio.

Address: 2401 NE 11th Ave., Wilton Manors.

Rating: * * * (Very Good)

Contact: 954-530-4641, lepatiowiltonmanors.com.

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-2 p.m. Sunday, 5:30-11 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (later on weekends).

Prices: Soups and salads $3.25-$8.95, entrees $9.50-$12.95, sides $6.50, desserts $5.50.

FYI: Reservations suggested on weekends. Beer and wine only; corkage $10. Free street parking and small lot. DN, DS, MC, VS.

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Ive met these 2 ladies several times, and this article is very on point. They are 2 of the sweetest women i have encountered in a while and they serve nothing but the best as well.

We recently discovered this little gem of a restaurant and WE LOVE IT! The escargot is phenomenal. The macaroni and cheese is to die for. We hear the goat cheese salad is incredible. The atmosphere is quaint and inviting. Jean and Vero are a joy to talk with while dining! We have been there three times in the last ten days. We encourage you to try this cute, tiny restaruant. You will love it, too!

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