Winter hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday, 11:30 am-8:30 pm Tuesday-Friday, 5-8:30 pm Saturday. Summer hours: 11:30 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, 5-9 pm Saturday. $$ Moderate.
[FRENCH BISTRO] Patrons of nearby Keller Auditorium rely on Carafe for pre- and post-performance Parisian fare, not to mention the free valet parking, which makes up for the slightly spooky trek to the parking-garage restrooms. The restaurant exudes a civilized unstuffiness, making it equally comfortable for lone diners and noisy revelers. Sit outside (basking in the breezes from Keller Fountain and gloating that you're not seething in rush-hour traffic) and contemplate your happy-hour choices: mussels in white wine, perhaps, or Carafe's unorthodox "pigs in a blanket"—wagyu beef sausages swathed in sweetish crêpes and enlivened with Dijon. The cheese plate can be a tad skimpy, but I add points for the walnut bread and seasonal fresh currants. Appetizers range from steak tartare to foie gras with seasonal accessories. Among entrees, the excellent canard à l'orange features herbed potato croquettes and tender slivers of beet and orange, although the duck glaze tastes more like tomato than orange. But Carafe's "bifsteak frites" (hanger steak and fries, dude) are totally reliable, and the béarnaise sauce keeps it Gallic. Also very Gallic: the terrific, reasonably priced French wine list. ANGIE JABINE.
Ideal meal: Sip a licoricey pastis with your moules à la crème or baked escargots. Follow (in winter, especially) with choucroute garnie: beer-braised sauerkraut, sausage, pork belly and smoked ham. Finish Euro-style with a frisée salad, or indulge in tarte aux pommes.
Best deal: At happy hour, a quarter-liter of the day's wine specials is $5, and Carafe's top-rated burger is $4.95.
Chef's choice: Frisée aux lardons. "I just can't get enough of bacon and eggs balanced with the bitter of the frisée and the acidity of the vinaigrette. The perfect dish!" (Pascal Sauton)