On my first visit to Faubourg, as I sat drinking a rummy Jungle Bird cocktail, one of my guests surveyed the restaurant and announced to his wife, “We don’t need to go to New York City for elegant dinners anymore!”
This was before we’d eaten anything more than bread and butter. Mind you, the bread is exceptional, delivered daily from Le French Dad Boulangerie a block away.
It’s hard to imagine better qualifications for opening a restaurant than those of Olivier Muller and Dominique Paulin. They each put in at least 18 years of service for master French restaurateur Daniel Boulud. Chef Muller worked with manager Paulin at Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan and helped Boulud open and run restaurants in many corners of the globe.
Paulin, a former Montclair resident who now lives in Essex Fells, convinced Muller that New Jersey would be a good place to open their own restaurant. They immediately saw the potential of the long-empty space on Bloomfield Avenue (originally a bank). Now, hovering over the vast interior are bulbous orbs of light in a cage-like structure that provides a steampunk–meets–art-deco vibe.
There’s a behemoth floor-to-ceiling wine vault that passersby can longingly stare into. An open kitchen at the rear adds to the energy. Where once there was an alley thick with weeds next door, there’s now a sleek, multilevel outdoor space, complete with fire pit, tables and a bar.
Although Muller’s roots are in Alsace, home to hearty Germano-French cuisine, the overwhelming feeling at Faubourg (pronounced foh-boor, a French term for the outskirts of Paris) is of Mediterranean breezes. For example, the barbajuans appetizer: These ravioli-like dumplings, filled with swiss chard and ricotta, are fried to a blistered, golden brown. Each shatters as you bite into it, yielding a creamy, salty interior.
Another starter, the fricassee of snails and chicken oysters (the oyster is the tenderest part of the chicken—a small disk of dark meat under the thigh), is a more polite version of snails than the typical garlic-soaked ones on French menus. “I remember when Daniel gave me my first chef job, it was one of the first dishes I proposed to him,” says Muller, “and I’ve done that dish ever since.”
The gougeres, sadly, might fail a French citizenship test. These traditional cheese puffs were served lukewarm each time we had them, which meant the interior tasted more of egg than of the nutty comté cheese they were made with. How I wish these were cooked to order, or at least fully reheated. If so, I would get myself a seat at the bar and a bottle of wine, and you all could just visit me there.
The beet salad was a pleasing upstart among same-old beet salads. Cubes of earthy, sweet beet mingled with leaves of yellow-green endive and large pumpernickel croutons. Instead of crumbling blue cheese, Muller blends the cheese with crème fraiche and fromage blanc to make it creamier and ices the plate with it. Spaghetti with ruby-red shrimp was tossed with artichoke hearts and olives. Saffron and lemon rounded out this visit to the Mediterranean.
“I try to keep my cooking focused so the seasonal ingredients can speak for themselves,” Muller says. A dish of duck with rhubarb morphed into duck with plum as summer turned to fall. (The duck skin had unfortunately missed its full tanning session and arrived pale brown and chewy.) As fig season peaked, I found myself eating salmon with fennel and roasted figs drizzled with balsamic vinegar, with each flavor taking on different roles of equal importance.
Of all the dishes on the menu, it’s the coq au vin, served with a rich brown sauce, spätzle and bacon, that most pulls at Muller’s heartstrings. “It’s the ultimate comfort food,” he says. “My mother would cook it for me. I take pride in making that dish every day and not passing it on to my sous chefs or cooks until they understand the dish well.”
Pastry chef and Jersey native Melissa Rodriguez turns out desserts that include a lush passion fruit cheesecake, a delicate disk of warm apple tart (which unfortunately arrived burnt on the bottom on two visits) and a perfect chocolate coulant. Those who wish to nibble the evening away can choose from a warm basket of baby madeleines, pale and vanilla scented, or a cheery selection of macarons.
Yet, it’s the vacherin I will return for. Layers of raspberry sorbet, pistachio ice cream, crisp meringue, fresh fruit and pillowy whipped cream create a perfect confection. Tune out the crowd, sit quietly, and become one with the vacherin.
Even on a Wednesday night, dining at Faubourg feels like a special event. With so much detail put into the space, food and wine, my only wish is for more consistent service.
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We were greeted unenthusiastically by the host on two of our three visits. One host even took us to the wrong table and, albeit politely, asked us to move about 10 minutes later. Service was eager but bumpy each time we visited. On two visits, orders were forgotten: a side of wild mushrooms, then a main of halibut with ratatouille. Another evening, my friend was the only person sitting at the bar (she was waiting for always-late me). The sullen bartender didn’t acknowledge her until she asked for a wine list. Her glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape was poured without a taste and pushed in her general direction.
Faubourg is a young, exciting restaurant with an experienced, dedicated chef and general manager. I trust that, as the days wear on, the service will rise to meet the caliber of the food and drink.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:French/Mediterranean
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $8-$21; entrées, $23-$38; sides, $6-$12; desserts, $10-$13
- Ambience:Elegant, modern temple of gastronomy
- Service:Lacks the warmth and polish of the food
- Wine list:Full bar, signature cocktails, 19 wines by the glass, 135 by the bottle