When Jean Francois Meteigner, one of the great French chefs in town, moved his restaurant from Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, many of his clients eagerly followed.

We expected the same great food and wines in a more casual, perhaps a bit less expensive, locale.

The new setting at the new location is great, the bar is fun, but where’s the great food? If you look at reviews on the Internet the prevailing common theme focuses on nostalgia for the great dishes of yesteryear in the old location.

And that’s been my experience as well. The fish soup and the alleged bouillabaisse don’t have much flavor, nor does it come with a great rouille. The bread is a disgrace to the French. Even the butter lacks flavor. My wife’s favorite soup is butternut squash, and although she’s not a big butter and cream person, after taking one spoonful she reached for the butter dish and scooped it all into the soup.

One night I was excited to see cassoulet on the menu, a dish I often crave, but when it came it was a disappointment as it consisted mostly of beans with a scrawny duck leg.

Somehow it seems that the chef got the idea that people in Santa Monica don’t want rich, strong flavored foods, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Having lost a lot of his following, the chef has turned to small plates (“French tapas”) to get back his crowd. It is an improvement, but in the long run he has to bring back the flavor. And, to some extent he has succeeded with some of the cold and hot small plates.

Among the most notable of the cold plates are octopus salad with cucumber, frisee and lightly spicy dressing ($9) and homemade duck liver paté with pickles and toast ($7).

He is even more successful with the hot plates: Sautéed foie gras with apple corn polenta brule ($12) is a big hit. Everything about it speaks rich flavors, and a small plate is just right. The stuffed dates with Gorgonzola and crispy prosciutto at $9 is another winner, and not a dish you can easily find. And veal sweetbreads with apples and glaze of capers ($10) is the kind of small plate I look for in a French restaurant.

On the other hand, baby back ribs with BBQ sauce and lentils ($12) I can find everywhere, probably at less cost. The chef is not really that good at BBQ and ditto with the shrimp brochettes with carrot curry sauce. Please, leave the curry dishes to all the great Indian restaurants in town.

And so it goes. The small plate menu is a really good idea, and fun. The restaurant is very pleasant, and I always find the service adequate (unlike the comments found in the reviews online). The wine list is fine. The chef is a really nice guy, and he is right on site watching over things — a really important feature to me.

Now let’s get out the butter, cream, rich reductions and French techniques (that we know the chef can do) that made French food famous around the world.

If You Go

La Cachette Bistro

1733 Ocean Avenue

Santa Monica, 90401

(310) 434-9509

www.lacachettebistro.com

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com