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French find combines charming welcomeness, gifted and (very) young chef
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"YOU WILL HAVE just a sip of champagne, right?"
 
Seasons de Provence owner Patrick Guyon de Chemilly has a way of telling when he asks. His shy handsomeness, gap-toothed smile and French accent don't hurt. It's 15 minutes to 1 p.m. on a weekday, but my sister and I comply with false sheepishness.

While most new restaurants garner reputations for having celebrity-status chefs, Guyon de Chemilly has figured out that hospitality can play as large a role for a restaurant of a certain caliber's making as what comes from the kitchen.

His restaurant, squirreled away in the basement of Cote Soleil, a French sundries and antiques shop owned by him and his wife, Tracy, is still a bit of a diamond in the rough. The jewel within, along with his constant cordiality, is the down-to-earth, solid French cooking from chef Bob McDonough (who is a mere 23).

This is not the kind of multifaceted French cooking one expects from Le Bernardin, Daniel or Joel. And it certainly isn't the kind one expects in Acworth. It is the kind one finds in France, if lucky enough to happen upon it.

McDonough, a graduate of the Minneapolis satellite of Cordon Bleu, spent an internship at the famed Maxim's in Paris. He must have listened and learned a lot. Or perhaps, as Guyon de Chemilly said by phone, he has "the gift."

I'm inclined to think it's a little of both. An older, more seasoned chef would never send galettes de pommes de terre (potato pancakes) to the table so unabashedly unadorned. So innocently uncomplicated. Small, crispy-edged rounds of what are part hash browns, part pancake garnished with a tang of goat cheese, a few rustically roasted tomatoes and a drizzle of rosemary oil.

There are no fervent flourishes, no bangs-not-whimpers of showmanship. There is simply the food.

Salade noise is as fresh as spring, hitting all the right notes between what a can of imported tuna and the right mix of hard-boiled eggs, fresh greens and a little olive oil and lemon juice can sing. Steamed mussels, Provencal style, are clean and perfect, tiny pillows of subtle sea flavor ensconced in a broth that hints at mustard flavor but never quite goes there. It is the perfect sup with a slice or two of the restaurant's always warm French bread.

A flounder, cherry picked from the specials board, made me do something I never do on a restaurant review: finish my meal. I simply could not stop eating it. fleshy fish, butter browned around its white edges with a few briny capers thrown in. McDonough revives a tired classic such as coquilles St. Jacques from a gooey, scallop-and-thick-white-sauce has-been into a front-runner, with a bright trio of seared scallops in a light orange sauce with red potatoes and leeks.

All of this makes it easy to forgive a green staff that, while friendly, has much to learn about pacing. That and lack of table space make long waits inevitable on weekend evenings. It might take more than an hour to get seated; once there, you might wait long lulls between courses. Some of this seems to be more the kitchen than the servers' issue.

And yet people wait. The restaurant sits in the heart of a quaint area of Acworth booming from revitalization along Main Street, and restaurants are a big part of the draw. Waiting an hour for a piece of well-seared fish must be easy payment for years of waiting for an alternative to the fast-food chains that dominate the area.

And the surroundings are so pleasant. It's evident that Guyon de Chemilly borrows much of his furniture and decor from his shop upstairs, filling the restaurant's tiled floors with quintessential French furnishings.

I would eat McDonough's crpes suzette in any surroundings, including cross-legged on the floor. They are not flamed tableside, but rather possess a more adolescent rendering, the buttery orange essence of this classic dessert all there beneath a mantle of soft, pan-dappled crpes. An apple tart is nearly as Lolita-like, with a buttery, flaky crust, warm apples and a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

I hope to heaven McDonough never grows up. If he does, what comes from his kitchen might, too. It is his naivets that keeps him in culinary Neverland, a world where purity triumphs over the fussiness of the foodie cognoscente.

Besides, Guyon de Chemilly has enough knowing and charm for the both of them. "Did you like your lunch?" he half-asks as we are leaving, his eyes twinkling. He knows what our answer will be.

  

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