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La Petite Auberge in Fredericksburg, reviewed

 Bon appetit! Experience dining at its best with crab-stuffed shrimp at La Petite Auberge restaurant in Fredericksburg.
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Date published: 1/10/2013



There are restaurants for special occasions, and La Petite Auberge is a clear local favorite. We were introduced to this fine eatery by friends who have enjoyed birthdays and anniversaries there before we moved to the area. It has what we expect from an upscale dining spot--excellent food and service.

My Dining Partner and I were joined for a holiday meal by two couples, including the one who had taken us there initially.

Our attentive server, Jim, plied us with soft warm French rolls (ice-cold butter) while we perused the menu, which changes slightly each day.

We began with appetizers of baked Brie with garlic and almonds ($11) and fried calamari with aioli ($8.95). The Brie, adorned with slivered almonds, was lush in its pool of garlic sauce with a dash of pesto and sprigs of garlic. Warm and creamy, it worked well with the rolls. The tender calamari--both rings and colorful tentacles, were enhanced by the creamy aioli, a pleasant change from the more typical marinara sauce accompaniment.

I ordered a mesclun Mary Lou salad ($5.75), a lovely combination of mixed greens, pistachios, shaved, tangy Manchego cheese and a homemade carrot vinaigrette dressing. MDP enjoyed his Caesar salad ($5.75), a goodly amount. The salads were prepared tableside and heaped on plates.

The members of our party enjoyed a variety of entrees, such as crispy duckling a l'orange, a rockfish special, and andouille sausage. Two of us ordered herb-crusted salmon on wild mushroom risotto ($20), and MDP selected rack of lamb with a Dijon crust ($28). The lamb was perched on a stew-like base of tomato and pepper and served with au gratin potatoes. The four chops were perfectly prepared as requested--medium rare--with a tease of mustard in the crust and requisite mint sauce.

Although "petite" is in the restaurant's name, the portions were not small. The duck, rockfish and salmon were instead "grand," pun intended. My large helping carried a delightful crust, again with a hint of mustard, and lounged on a bed of creamy risotto.

The steamed vegetable medley of primarily squash and peppers accompanying our entrees was rather bland and would have benefited from seasoning.

Few special occasions are complete without dessert. MDP ordered bread pudding infused with Jack Daniel's sauce ($6.50), again "grand" in all respects. I savored the chocolate ganache cake ($6.50), rich and moist and oh so chocolaty. Other friends topped off their meals with chocolate mousse or a slice of cake.

It's easy to understand why La Petite Auberge, owned since 1981 by the Renault family, has earned a reputation for excellence. Reservations are recommended, but celebrations aren't necessary.

Linda Salisbury is the author of the Bailey Fish books, an award-winning adventure series for kids.

What: La Petite Auberge, Fredericksburg Address: 311 William St., between Princess Anne and Charles streets Info: 540/371-2727; lapetiteaubergefred.com Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Prices: Appetizers: $6-$24

Soups and salads: $3.95-$7.50

Dinners: $11.50-$32

Desserts: $5.50-$8

Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.

The Scoop: Excellent food and bustling service with attention to making the dining experience pleasurable. Separate bar and large-group seating. Some areas of the dining room are noisy because of the constant banging of a nearby swinging door to the kitchen. Payment: Major credit cards accepted.