gulp addiction

Barbette's fries and burgers will blow you away

Jules and Vincent were just a couple of guys on their way to work, talking about peculiarities of language. You might remember them.

&#8220You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris?”

&#8220They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?”

&#8220No, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the [bleep] a Quarter Pounder is.”

&#8220Then what do they call it?”

&#8220They call it a Royale with cheese.”

Yes, indeed. They call it that at Barbette, too. And what do they call those deep-fried slices of potato that so many of us love so much with our Royales with cheese? Pommes frites.

They're also known as French fries, though you might well recall their brief time as &#8220freedom fries” after France opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. (Historical footnote: Rep. Robert Ney of Ohio had introduced the legislation in Congress to revise the anti-American names of French fries and French toast in the cafeteria for the House of Representatives. In July of this year, the House quietly changed the names back. In September of this year, Ney entered a plea of guilty in an unrelated corruption probe; he faces 10 years in prison.)

The fries at Barbette are legendary. They've been feted and adored and eaten for years by the local press and residents - for good reason, too. As Julia Child might've said, these fries are c'est magnifique.

The secret to their magnificence is no secret, says Head Chef Peter Botcher.

&#8220They're hand-made; they're different than regular, mass-produced fries - they're meant to be flavorful. A lot of mass-produced fries are only crispy, and they'll stay crispy for hours, but they don't really have any flavor.”

Preach on, brother Botcher.

&#8220We get whole potatoes in unpeeled, and then we peel them and then we form them into French fries in a press and then we soak them in water for 24 hours.”

That soaking brings out the starch, he says, so that his fries are crispy (though not obsessively so).

They then go through two fryings: the first is in canola oil heated to 275 degrees. &#8220We let ‘em cool down and then we fry ‘em again at 350 degrees and then salt them,” Botcher says.

The end product is a delicate crunch of deep-fried perfection topped off with a light saffron aioli. It's difficult to say how Vincent and Jules would react to the aioli - you'll recall they were horrified by the thought of Europeans dunking their fries in mayo. But if you can swallow the fear of fries dipped in anything but ketchup, you'll swallow handfuls of pommes frites in the smooth, subtle tang of the mixture of saffron, garlic, lemon juice, canola oil, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, champagne vinegar, and salt and pepper.

When the pommes frites are paired with the football-shaped Royale with cheese made up of ground steak scraps, you've got yourself the best-tasting heart attack in the city.

Barbette, 1600 W. Lake St., is open 8 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday through Thursday; 8 a.m.-2 a.m., Friday and Saturday.

For more information, call 827-5710 or go to www.barbette.com.