Thierry Burkle’s L’Etoile is a guiding light in French country cooking. The smart neighborhood brasserie succeeds because of a constellation of moderately priced, well-thought-out offerings, including this lemon sole.

The mild fish is perfectly suited to a special-occasion dressing up. With a bread-crumb crust as a toasty counterpoint, the moist and flaky filets are transformed into a positively dashing alter ego. The dreamy champagne-and-cream sauce gets an acidic tweak from perky pearl-size champagne grapes. For a small dinner party, you will thank your lucky stars for this no-nonsense entrée.

Lemon Sole with Champagne Sauce

4 seven-ounce lemon sole filets
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Vegetable oil
3 small shallots, finely chopped
1 cup dry champagne
1/2 cup fish stock (see recipe, below)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup champagne grapes (or quartered red grapes)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush filets lightly with 1 tablespoon softened butter, and thinly coat with bread crumbs. Lightly oil skillet with vegetable oil. Sauté filets until golden brown; finish cooking by baking in oven for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on thickness of filets. (To achieve the desired delicate flavor, the sole needs to be lightly cooked, not overcooked.)

For sauce, sauté shallots in 2 tablespoons butter, then add champagne and simmer over medium heat. Add fish stock, cream, and lemon juice, skimming as necessary. Reduce heat, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until sauce has light, creamy consistency. Remove pan from heat, and add 2 more tablespoons butter. Stir with whisk, then add grapes.

Pour sauce into center of preheated plates. Place filets on top. Serves 4.

Fish Stock

1 pound well-rinsed fish bones (preferably a mixture of sole and snapper)
1 onion, sliced
8 parsley sprigs
1 celery stalk, chopped into 5 or 6 pieces
1 leek, chopped
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
2 bay leaves 1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs basil (optional)
2 quarts cold water

In large stockpot, combine all ingredients, and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 25 minutes, skimming frequently. When done, strain stock through fine mesh strainer.

Note: Instead of using fish bones, you may use a 1-pound whole fish (remove the head), either snapper or sole. Or you may substitute 1/2 quart of canned clam juice for fish bones. If you use clam juice, reduce water to 1 quart.