From seventh-grade at Hillside Junior High in Bridgewater till I graduated Bridgewater-Raritan High School West, I studied French with Monsieur Errico Pacilio. If you got through French V, you were rewarded with dinner at his home in Raritan, cooked by his French wife, Muguette Pacilio. I finally had that dinner, and it did not disappoint.
That indelible meal sprang to mind last week when I visited O Bistro Francais in Red Bank. I consumed the truffled chicken mousse—dense, intense and textbook correct—sliver by delicious sliver from a simple white plate furnished with a haystack of baby arugula salad.
Classic French bistro cooking doesn’t have much market share in New Jersey—or anywhere, for that matter, these days. But at O Bistro Francais, chef-owner Marc Fontaine (formerly with Bienvenue, Red Bank), might make diners nostalgic for the days of Jackie Kennedy speaking French in the White House and Julia Child teaching French cooking on TV.
At O Bistro’s side-street storefront near the train station, smoked duck breast was fanned like a peacock’s tail on a lentil salad with apricots in a vibrant orange vinaigrette. Think duck a l’orange of another stripe, sort of de-constructed.
A seafood crêpe didn’t wimp out with shreds of fillet and nibs of shellfish, but came with chunky bites of mahi, salmon and tuna under a rich bechamel. This isn’t cuisine minceur, but cuisine hearty.
You can even have, in this sedate country-French setting, a proper roulade of chicken. The breast meat was rolled with morels, chicken mousse and spinach, then flecked with a surprisingly subtle sage sauce. On the side, a trio of vegetable classics: shredded carrots, green beans, potato gratin.
Crêpes Suzette for dessert? Oui, though they fell flat, the French pancake heavy and the twirl of whipped cream airy and thin, clearly sprayed on the plate. Make mine from freshly whipped cream, please.
O Bistro Francais makes a case for time travel back to an era of gentility and time-honored dishes. It might not be in vogue, but classic French always has style.
O Bistro Francais, 15 North Bridge Avenue, Red Bank. 732-852-2705. BYO (liquor license said to be in the offing). obistrofrancais.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 11 pm.Click here to leave a comment