To say that Chef/Owner, Mark Papera, of Fricassee French Bistro, is excited to return to Montclair would be an understatement. When he heard that his original restaurant (Epernay) was up for sale, he moved lock, stock, and barrel, from Ithaca, New York, purchased the business, and immediately started the transformation. In a little less than a month’s time, he (and his merry band of family and friends) brightened the interior, overhauled the menu, installed new furnishings, and reestablished his NJ roots. Whew! Most restaurants take six months for that kind of work, but Mark had been itching to return to NJ for two years so he was eager to get it done.
I had never been to Epernay when Mark was the original owner, but I did visit the second incarnation a couple of times. Unfortunately, I was less than wowed. So when I heard that Mark had returned, I was curious.
You’re probably saying to yourself right about now, “OK, but what about the food?” Let me sum it up this way: in two weeks, I have been there three times and each visit was sublime. If you read my posts regularly, you know I am not given to superlatives often, so if you are a lover of French bistro cooking, read on.
In those two weeks, I have probably tried almost 50% of the menu, thanks in part to Mark’s hospitality. Foods that I was a not particular fan of before are now on my “must have” list. These include the delectable mussels, swimming in a white wine-garlic-herb broth that just begs you to sop it up with good bread (from Balthazar) or slurp with a spoon. In fact, I liked these so much that on my second visit, I had the mussels for my entrée with plenty of bread, and a lovely Cameron Hughes Lot 259 Riesling.
Also on my new list of favorite foods, Mark’s roasted beet salad, which is comprised of mixed greens, roasted beets, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and a sherry vinaigrette. The salad tasted like summer with herbs of mint, parsley, and basil.
Mark also does a classic frisee salad, which was heavenly. Frisee lettuce with generous bacon lardons and bleu cheese, croutons, mustard vinaigrette, topped with a poached egg, which envelops the salad perfectly when pierced.
If you enjoy pate, try the country pate, served with cornichons and Dijon mustard. It was so smooth, with just a hint of mustard. And not to be outdone, the chicken liver mousse was fabulously delicate.
Any self-respecting French bistro has a regular “plats du jour” and Fricassee is no different. I was there on a Thursday and had to have the Cotes du Boeuf for two. A huge dry-aged rib-eye cooked spot on, served with a mixed green salad, and perfectly crisp and salty pommes frites.
Fricassee offers a selection of four or five gratins de macaroni. I sampled the wild mushroom and truffle. Here’s what I wrote in my notes: “OMG!” A small terrine of creamy elbow macaroni and a crunchy topping of Parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella - the perfect winter comfort food. Other mac and cheese options include vegetable, cheese, and short rib and bleu cheese. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.
Other winners on this tidy menu are the herb-crusted tuna, seared rare and served on warm green lentil salad, with mustard vinaigrette; the crispy skin salmon with a ragout of white beans, chorizo sausage, tomato confit, baby spinach, grain mustard cream sauce; and the duck confit served over pumpkin and bleu cheese risotto with walnuts and sage.
Dessert does not take a back seat here! Fricassee serves a classic tart tatin topped with vanilla ice cream, a light lemon tart with raspberry sauce, profiteroles, vanilla crème brulee, and chocolate mousse. I have tasted all but the profiteroles and I must tell you that while they were all delicious, the crème brulee was exquisite. Probably about the best I’ve ever had. And the chocolate mousse is a very close second.
Fricassee embodies the true essence of a French bistro – casual atmosphere, good service, outstanding food. I, for one, am glad that it’s close by. Say “oui” to Fricassee!
6 Park Street
Open Monday-Saturday, 5:00-10:00pm