I remember Markus and Hubert Peter, the brothers who owned and ran the Fromagerie from 1972 to 2006, not only because the food was always exceptionally good, but primarily because of the charm and caring they showed their guests. This was particularly notable at a time when restaurant staff were sometimes known to treat women with more than a little contempt—seating them at the worst table in the house, always giving the wine list to a man, and so on. This same caring has continued under David Burke, the new chef-owner, who purchased the restaurant from the Peter family in May 2006 and was very visible at the restaurant during each of two recent visits.
Burke first became known for his excellent American cuisine when he was chef-owner at the Park Avenue Café in Manhattan. Now he also owns Davidburke & Donatella and the more casual David Burke @ Bloomingdale’s, both in Manhattan; David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago; a new restaurant, David Burke Las Vegas, at the Venetian Hotel and Casino, opening next month; and restaurant.mc, which he just opened as a consulting partner with Marc Cooperman in October in Millburn. With strong family ties in Monmouth County—his parents live in Middletown—Burke intends to buy a house in the area and make the Fromagerie his flagship. Kevin Haeger, formerly tournant with the River Café in Brooklyn, is executive chef.
Other than a bit more light, the restaurant itself doesn’t look very different so far, although the second floor is being refurbished as a place for romantic dinners. It’s a little more casual than in former days—the dress code is relaxed, and it’s possible to have light meals sitting at the bar. But the more formal and attractive dining room is quieter, with better service than in the noisy bar dining area.
The menu is a delight. Meals begin with an amuse-bouche; on one occasion, a small glass with foie gras panna cotta topped with a layer of port-wine gelée, and on another, steak tartare with a large crisp truffle. There are special touches, like the individual copper pans filled with a puffy and crusty cheese-flavored popover that serves as bread. Among the appetizers, lobster bisque is presented in a large bowl containing chunks of lobster and a lobster spring roll, over which is poured the luscious, creamy bisque; the soup’s presentation is as good as its flavor. The oblong crab cake is almost totally crab and covered with crunchy pretzel pieces; the contrast in flavor and texture between soft and crunchy, and the accompanying mango vinaigrette and poppy-seed honey, renders this starter amazingly good. The tasty Crisp and Angry Lobster Cocktail consists of a hot, spicy lobster tail and claw arranged artfully on a flower frog. The briny East and West Coast oysters with pickled watermelon vinaigrette, and the pastrami-smoked Perona Farms salmon with a warm potato knish and pickled spicy red-onion rings are slightly different from the usual, but very good indeed. Perfectly cooked green asparagus spears with prosciutto, mozzarella, and red and yellow watermelon with balsamic vinaigrette is refreshing, and the seared shrimp and scallops in a rich, flavorful citrus-and-garlic broth with fennel are enjoyable.
A striped bass special is excellent, cooked perfectly with the crisp skin uppermost on a thick, creamy clam chowder with tiny clams and pieces of spicy chorizo. Crisp chorizo is also used to enhance a dish in which three enormous scallops Benedict are each topped with a quail egg cooked sunny-side up and accompanied by potato-Parmesan cake and lobster aioli.
Roast duck is a personal favorite; the Fromagerie’s rendition is extraordinary. It is cooked on the bone, but only the breast of the roasted soy-honey duck is served; the full flavor of the duck breast comes through perfectly. It is served with Lap Chung (Chinese sausage), shrimp fried rice, and a burnt orange and jasmine sauce. Braised short ribs melt in the mouth, and the handmade cavatelli, truffle mousse, and mushrooms chips make the dish positively addictive. The veal porterhouse on a bed of sautéed spinach with morels and shallots is tender and full-flavored.
Cheese lovers can rejoice in one of the best cheese plates they’ll see anywhere. Not only are the selection and portion sizes excellent, but the cheese itself is in first-rate condition. For dessert, the delicious cheesecake pops are like lollipops of cheesecake with a variety of coatings such as chocolate and nuts, with fresh raspberries, pink cream sauce, and whipped cream. Other satisfying conclusions include French apple tart with thin pastry and sliced apples with cinnamon ice cream; a butterscotch panna cotta layered in a glass with curry-cocoa nib geleé and batons of meringue; and any of the homemade ice creams and sorbets. The soufflés are worth waiting for (the flavor changes daily); be sure to order early in the meal. Also good are layers of paper-thin chocolate and caramel cream sprinkled with grey salt.
Reviewed in: November 2006Click here to leave a comment