Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Release Day Review ~ Dinner for One by Megan Harding ~ (Review + Excerpt)

Release Day Review ~ Dinner for One by Megan Harding ~ (Review + Excerpt)

Title: Dinner for One
Author: Meg Harding
Release Date Jul 13, 2016
Type Novels
Words 63,933
Pages 200


Bastien isn’t used to bad reviews. His French restaurant is the toast of the town, and when a well-known critic insults it, he’s left off-kilter. Luckily for him he’s found a distraction. He’s just met an attractive writer at his niece’s school bake sale. He’s into food, into Bastien and the touch of kink they share, and there’s a chemistry between them that might make the perfect recipe.

James isn’t expecting to meet a good-looking French chef at a bake sale, but he’s not going to let the chance slide. It comes as a surprise when the chef turns out to be the owner of a place he knows—and has reviewed—and it puts James in a sticky situation. So he might have to omit some pertinent information to make it work… at least for now.

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New York Times food critic’s review:

L’AMOUR DANS La Ville: What can I say? It’s an authentic French restaurant, from the French staff to the French music and the French food. Are you getting that it’s French yet? It’s like taking a trip to the country itself. The décor is rustic, the wine selection is vast, and the menu is offered in three different languages. It’s impossible to get in without a reservation—except on nights carefully set aside for those who aren’t the reserving type. And even then, you’re looking at a wait.

I’ve heard great things about this little restaurant, from friends and family, even from other food critics! I’ve been hearing nothing but praise since it opened almost a year ago, and I’ve been putting off going. Partly because, I will freely admit, I’ve never been the biggest fan of French cuisine, and partly because I wanted to wait until the hype had settled down. Maybe that’s why I feel the way I feel. Maybe my expectations going into this were too high. Who could live up to such accolades? Not this little French restaurant, that’s for sure.

Let me preface this by saying that the food wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great, and I’d been led to believe I’d want to never eat anything else again. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give L’amour Dans La Ville a six, maybe a seven. I’m sure that’s a rating that many people would find acceptable. If you’re not looking for top-notch, maybe this could be your thing.

It’s pretentious. The waitstaff speaks French. If you sit near the kitchens, you can hear the cooks speaking to each other in French. This place has French pouring out of its cracks. Not to say that that’s bad. It wouldn’t be if the staff wasn’t so pretentious as well. I swear, I didn’t know what one French word was, and I got a look that clearly said I was a moron.

But enough about the overwhelmingly French aesthetic. Let’s talk about the food.

The bread that came out first was piping hot and perfectly baked. It gave me high hopes. The wine was good, and the waiter chose it with my meal in mind. He may have been a little snobby, but he knows his wine, so I’ll give him credit where credit is due. I ordered soupe à l’oignon for my main course. The bread in the soup erred on the side of a little too soggy, and the flavor was closer to bland than savory. Maybe the chef was afraid to overseason the soup, after all that too can be a problem, but maybe he should have taken the risk. Needless to say, I’d tasted enough.

As I said before. It wasn’t bad; I didn’t want to get up and walk out. But would I want to spend my money to eat there frequently? I’m going to say no. If you’ve got the money to waste on ridiculously expensive food and you don’t mind if it’s a little bland and your service is a little snobby, then go ahead and eat at La Ville.

This is a review by renowned food critic Harper Carlisle.

Bastien puts the now-wrinkled paper down, flipping it so he can no longer see the derogative review. His blood feels like it’s boiling, pressure building in his head. His left eyelid twitches. Covering his face with his hands, he releases a deep growl into his palms. What kind of an ass writes a review like that? He’s had nothing but rave reviews! Not one bad review since he’s opened and now this… this Harper Carlisle—and how stupid was that name? It was just two last names crammed together. Absolutely ridiculous—just tromped on in and tried to ruin his reputation. One of the biggest critics out there at the moment. This could be devastating.

A cool hand lands on his back, rubs up and down over his tense spine. “Breathe,” says Fleur, his sister, moving her hand to the back of his neck. She tries to massage the tension from it. “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

Wordlessly he hands her the paper over his shoulder. He thinks about re-covering his face, maybe going into her room and commandeering her bed for a good long sulk. He settles for watching her face as she reads. It gets progressively darker, her blue eyes narrowing and her full lips pursing. Her pert nose wrinkles up with anger. When she finishes she tosses the paper away in disgust. It slides off the table and flutters to the floor. “What does he know anyway?” she demands, hands propped indignantly on her curvaceous hips. “It doesn’t matter. He’s no one.”

“If no one is a popular food critic.”

She gives him a sympathetic look, rising from her seat and putting a hand on his shoulder. “Bastien,” she says, “there’s always going to be someone who says you suck. You can’t let it bother you. He’s one out of how many?” She pats his cheek, runs her hand through his fluffy ginger hair. “He’s a tasteless moron, move on.” She moves around him toward the oven, her long elephant-patterned skirt swishing about her legs, to where his choux pastries are baking.

He does a lot of his cooking here, finds it nice to have company. He thinks that’s a side effect of always working in a busy kitchen. It feels weird to cook by himself now. When she’d gotten the place, her oven had been a chintzy thing, and he’d fixed that quickly, talked her into getting a state-of-the-art one that meant her counters and cabinets had to be redesigned to fit it in.

“They’re not done yet,” he tells her, smiling fondly. “They need another ten minutes.” The pastry cream is waiting in a bowl to the side, needing time to settle properly, while the choux needs time to get crisper.

“My daughter is going to have the fanciest pastries in the whole bake sale,” preens Fleur.

Bastien can’t help but agree. He’s maybe going a bit overboard baking religieuses for an elementary school bake sale, but he knows the kids and parents will love it. Plus it’s just fun for him to bake. This is his trial run before he introduces them to the dessert menu at his restaurant.

His sister bends to peer inside the oven, like she doubts him. He can hear her taking deep inhales. “You’re ridiculous,” he says, standing up so he can nudge her away. “I’ve made some just for us. Don’t worry.”

He doesn’t know how she isn’t round as a house the way she constantly steals pastries from his batches. Without fail, whether he’s baking at his place or baking at hers, she appears. It’s like she has some kind of sixth sense regarding his baked goods.

Steering her toward the living room, he leads her to the couch. “Why don’t you wait here?” he suggests, prodding her toward the couch with a firm hand to her lower back.

She huffs but sits down, propping her long legs on the coffee table and reaching for the remote, settling in to watch TV. “I can help you ice them once they’ve cooled,” she says, tilting her head back to look hopefully up at him, as if she’s doing it to be helpful. Bastien knows she’s really offering so she can sneak mouthfuls of icing from the bowls when he’s not looking.

“I’m good,” he says, patting her on the shoulder and smiling amusedly. She doesn’t need the extra sugar. “I need the practice.”

He leaves her there and heads into the kitchen, his gaze falling on the paper. It’s irrational, but he doesn’t want it in this house. He takes it to the recycling bin out by the street, buries it underneath the million and one water bottles crumpled in there, and treks inside. When he looks back at his table, it has nothing but his baking tools on it.

He rolls his shoulders, then gets to work cleaning up his mess and preparing for the new one he’s about to create. Everything has to be moved to the counters, out of his way. He wipes the table down for good measure, till it’s spotless and the wood is shining. He takes the pastries out right when the oven dings, carefully placing them on cooling racks in the middle of his table. While they cool he prepares the pastry bags and retrieves the cream filling and the vanilla cream icing, carefully putting each in its respective bag.

The pastries aren’t cool enough to work with by the time he’s done with prep, so he calls his restaurant to make sure everything is running smoothly and the fish order has come in correctly. He’s working with a new supplier, and he always finds that nerve-racking. He can’t count the number of times he’s had to deal with faulty orders and menu changes had to be made on the fly. It’s especially important everything run smoothly now that a major critic has given them a bad review. They’ll be under a microscope. His stomach rolls. Will this lead to an avalanche of bad reviews? Is this the turning point for his restaurant?

“L’amour Dans La Ville, how may we serve you today?” answers a light, accented voice.

“Jean, it’s Bastien. I wanted to check on things. Did the fish order come in right? Are all our vegetables fresh? Did you read the paper?”

Jean’s sigh is heavy over the line. “It’s a yes to all those things. You can’t let one bad review get to you like this.”

“He commented on our serving. Do you know who served him?”

“Merde,” mutters Jean. “I’m not firing our servers.”

“I’m not asking you to,” responds Bastien. “I’m just curious. Maybe we should sit them down and discuss etiquette. We do use a lot of French in Dans La Ville.”

“We’re a French restaurant. That reviewer was a moron.”

Bastien hears something crash, and Jean starts swearing.

“What happened? Did something break? Do you need me to come in?” His heart starts to race, his fingers twitch as if he’s going to grab his keys and leave for the restaurant right then. He glances at his pastries. He can’t just abandon them.

“I need you to get off my ass,” Jean snaps, frustration ringing in his voice. “We’re fine. I’m fine. The restaurant is fine. Are you getting the pattern here? Aren’t you supposed to be helping your sister become the most popular mom at Avery’s school?”

“I’m waiting for the pastries to cool.”

“Ah,” says Jean. “Waiting. You always do so good with that. I should have known.” He heaves another hefty sigh, clearly audible over the line. “Look, I’ve got things under control here. One bad review does not erase a hundred good ones. I’m sure the restaurant will be packed tonight, and we’ll have to turn people away at the door.”

“We do that anyway,” grumbles Bastien. “You can’t get in without a reservation.” He frowns. “Wait, is tonight a no-reservation night? What day is it?” He pulls his phone away from his ear to look at the screen, but all he can see is Jean’s name.

“We’re packed to the brim and yet you’re worried about how our business is going to do. Do you see how irrational that is? And it’s Monday, genius. Maybe you need to take a nap.”

He does, but how would it look if he admitted that? He settles for huffing over the line and cautiously pokes at one of his pastries. Still too hot. “I don’t have time for a nap.”

“What’re you making?” asks Jean, clearly trying to steer him off topic.

“Des religieuses,” answers Bastien.

“You really are trying to make your sister look good,” laughs Jean. “You don’t think that’s a bit much for a school bake sale?”

“No. I’m trying it out to see if we should add it to the menu.”

“Because we don’t have enough on there already,” says Jean. “You’re really on a roll. What are you doing for the icing?”

“The school colors. I might add some drawings, something to spice it up, but I’m not sure yet.”

“Spice up the religieuses, huh. That’s not weird at all.” Bastien can hear him laughing. “Look, I need to let you go if you want everything taken care of. I’ve got it under control; no you don’t need to come in tonight; yes things will be fine without you. Go have fun.”

Bastien grudgingly lets him go, after acquiring one more promise that everything is just as it should be. He spends his remaining time staring at the pastries, as if he can cool them from sheer will alone. He isn’t normally so impatient, but the bad review has left him buzzing. That’s understandable, he thinks. It’s his first really negative one. And some of what the critic said was just assy. And that is Harper’s style—he’s read some of his other reviews—but he hadn’t thought he’d be at the short end of one.

By the time the pastries are cool enough to be filled and iced, he has several ideas and is confident that his religieuses will blow those elementary school parents’ baked goods out of the water. If he can’t make one thing absolutely perfect, he’ll sure as hell do his best to make something else as close to perfection as he can get it.

Avery comes home when he’s almost done icing the first batch, has a second one waiting to be stuffed and iced, and a third in the oven. He hears the slam of the garage door, the sound of her shoes hitting the wall as she kicks them off. “Bastien!” she says, delighted, when she bursts into the kitchen and sees him. She drapes her small body over his shoulder, leaning all her weight on him, and he has to be careful not to jerk his arm. He doesn’t want to mess up the pastry he’s working on. Her long blonde hair tickles the side of his face. He turns enough to kiss the top of her head. She smells like Elmer’s glue. His nose wrinkles. “Bonjour, petite chérie,” he says. “How was school?”

“Boring,” she says in a singsong voice. “We’re learning fractions.” Her face scrunches up. “I don’t like them.”

“Your maman didn’t either,” he tells her. Fleur had complained about them endlessly when she’d been learning. “I can help with your homework if you need it.”

She beams at him, one of her front teeth missing. “Merci, Bastien,” she says. She digs her pointy chin into his shoulder. “What’re you making?”

“Religieuses,” he says. “For your school bake sale.”

She sticks her bottom lip out. “None for me?” she pouts, making her lip tremble.

Like mother, like daughter, he thinks. He chuckles. “I’ve got a batch just for us,” he promises. “You go do your homework, and after dinner you can have one.”

She claps, jumping a little. She gets a sly look in her sparkling blue eyes when she calms. “Could I have just a little icing first?” she wheedles, pinching her thumb and forefinger so there’s a little gap.

He sighs, mock put out. “Get me a spoon,” he says, unable to hide his smile when she dashes for the cutlery drawer and runs back with the spoon waving in her small hand. He squeezes enough icing onto it to fill the dip and gives the spoon back. “Don’t tell maman,” he warns her.

She gives him wide, innocent eyes. “Of course not,” she says, and then sticks the entire spoonful in her mouth. When she’s finished she pats him on the shoulder, looking earnest. “Can I help?”

“After your homework,” he tells her sternly. “You can help me decorate the next tray that’s in the oven.”



She runs from the room, and he hears her yell a passing greeting to Fleur before the sound of her feet pounding up the stairs filters down. Predictably Fleur pops her head into the kitchen not even a minute later.

“You told her she could help, didn’t you?”

Bastien turns the pastry in front of him just so, making sure the whiskers on the rabbit face are even. “Yes,” he says, sparing her a brief glance. “She’s going to be my protégé.” Last Halloween she’d dressed as a chef. He’d nearly burst from pride.

Fleur laughs, taking several steps into the kitchen. She shoves her hands in her jeans pockets, rocking back on her heels. She gets the same look on her face that Avery had. Bastien rolls his eyes.

“Go get a spoon,” he says, his cheeks twitching with the effort not to grin.

She doesn’t run to the cutlery drawer, but it’s a close thing.

*** Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie in exchange for a fair and honest review. ***

Bastien, co-owner of a renowned French restaurant, isn't used to bad reviews about his cooking, so when a renowned food critic writes one, he isn't happy and when he isn't happy, he bakes. Good thing there's a bake sale at his niece's school and even better when he meets a hunky writer there who seems interested in both him and his religiouses. 

The last thing James expected when he went to his nephews' school bake sale was a handsome chef who bakes like the gods, or learning that said chef co-owned the restaurant he recently wrote a not so good review on. On the advice of his brother and sister-in-law, he decides not to tell Bastien who he is, at least not before he's gotten a chance to get to know Bastien and see if their chemistry and mutual love for food will actually amount to something long lasting.

First of all, I have to say that all the food descriptions were amazing and I was left with a huge craving for all the fantastic food that Megan Harding described. Second, I really liked Bastien, he was so sweet and trusting, a bit oblivious, but still very likable. I wasn't too sure I'd like James, but he grew on me. He actually worked hard to get his man to forgive him and that's something I can appreciate. 

I really liked how both their families and Bastien's friend, Jean, were so instrumental in the story. In my opinion, it gave it more depth and really moved things along. 

All in all, this was a pretty good read. Enjoyable, delicious and very entertaining! Definitely recommendable!

Rating: 4 Stars!!!

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