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French Lessons

Side Dishes: Fresh fare at New Haven's Tourterelle

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Route 7 is dotted with mini-marts, casual Italian and Chinese restaurants, and all manner of fast-food joints. But a new inn and restaurant called Tourterelle, on the stretch between Vergennes and Middlebury, offers something quite different. The fare, prepared by chef-owner Bill Snell, is classic French with a twist: Think fat escargots and bits of garlic sausage on warmed foccacia, or bouillabaisse with a touch of nontraditional tomato paste and a hint of Thai curry.

Before they bought the building — formerly Roland’s Place, 1796 House — Snell and his wife Christine owned two restaurants in Brooklyn: Cocotte and LouLou. How did they end up living in New Haven? Like many Vermont transplants, they came in search of a better quality of life for their children. “Our LouLou lease was about to expire,” says Christine. “We decided it was time for us to make the change.”

After extensive renovations — including a fresh paint job, a bigger bar and the addition of a fireplace — the Snells opened Tourterelle to the public on August 28. But the restaurant, whose French name translates as “dove,” doesn’t have Parisian prices, as Christine Snell points out. At dinner, which is served Wednesday through Saturday, entrées cost between $12 and $21. She stresses that the spot works equally well for three-course date-night dinners or burgers and beer at the bar. The salmon with lobster mashed potatoes fits the former; for the latter, there are plenty of casual options such as steak frites and crêpes.

Although the eatery has been attracting a crowd at dinnertime, Snell has been surprised to find Sunday brunch quieter than expected. “In Brooklyn it was a big thing. We used to serve 150 brunches every Sunday,” she says. She hopes things pick up as word gets out, but a couple of slow days aren’t always bad for a new eatery. “I’d rather have less people and have people come back,” Snell says. “It was perfect where we could really take our time: I believe in really good service.”

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