Restaurant Review

Sophie’s Bistro

This casual, French restaurant in Somerset offers some winning entrees and delicious salads.

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Like siblings with disparate personalities, Sophie’s Bistro shares the same nondescript building on Hamilton Street in Somerset as the Den, a nightclub also run by the restaurant’s proprietor, Peter Mack, 52. From the outside, the appeal of this pleasant dining spot doesn’t show. But inside, the copper-topped oak bar and wood floors, the pastel walls hung with vintage French advertising posters, and the jeroboams of champagne lining a wall-length mirror behind the banquettes suggest the owner’s homage to a classic French bistro.

In fact, the homage is to a particular French chef—Sophie.

Formerly married to a chef whose family lived in southwestern France, Mack would hear them praise the cooking of Sophie, chef at their local bistro. The stories inspired him to open an unpretentious neighborhood place of his own—in her name, using many of her recipes.

Chef David Fordjour, 43, hails from Ghana and draws upon his experience in London, New York, and Chicago. Admirable appetizers included plump escargots bathed in hot garlic butter. Three savory tarts were notable—a harmonious caramelized onion tart with house-cured salmon and goat cheese; a baked cherry-tomato and goat-cheese tart; and, best of the three, a Provençale pizza, in which baked pear slices were perfectly partnered with slightly sharp blue cheese and toasted sunflower seeds.

The French penchant for cooking with cheese found further expression in a fondue, although this version was more like a rich potato gratin. A mélange of melted Emmentaler, Gruyére, and blue cheese topped a layer of tender potatoes, making this dish so good I didn’t want to share.

Salads also hit the mark. The house-cured salmon with fresh greens, capers, and finely chopped onion had a mustard vinaigrette with just the right sharpness. A generous portion of tender duck confit was nicely matched with a hearty, lightly dressed salad of mildly bitter frisée, crisp potatoes, haricots verts, and walnuts.

Winning entrées included rich steak au poivre and tender, juicy duck breast with a honey-raisin sauce that wasn’t overly sweet.

The kitchen fell short with a dry and mealy cassoulet. Tomatoes typically are not a major ingredient in this dish, yet they dominated in the version we sampled. Roast organic chicken had a crisp skin but was overcooked. Rack of lamb, ordered medium rare, came out well- done but was replaced by the kitchen with another rack at the correct pinkness. Escargots with an off flavor were sent back. The replacement order came out fresh and delicious.

Seafood selections helped counter these setbacks. Faultless trout amandine, the delicate flesh moist, bore a rich veil of lightly browned butter and slivered almonds. A special, seafood pot-au-feu, featured fresh mussels, clams, scallops, and shrimp simmered in delicious saffron-infused broth with tender new potatoes and croutons smeared with rich, garlicky aioli.

Desserts, made in house, provided several happy endings. There was perfect crème brulée, warm chocolate cake oozing rich Belgian chocolate, and a well-balanced lemon tart with an appealing hint of cinnamon in the crumb crust.

“I make myself happy by making my guests happy,” says Mack. Except for a few hiccups in the kitchen, Sophie would be proud of her protégé.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    European - French
  • Price Range:
  • Sophie’s Bistro
    700 Hamilton St
    Somerset, NJ 08873
  • Hours:
    Monday Closed
    Tuesday 11:30 am – 9:30 pm
    Wednesday 11:30 am – 9:30 pm
    Thursday 11:30 am – 9:30 pm
    Friday 11:30 am – 10:30 pm
    Saturday 5:00–10:30 pm
    Sunday 4:00–9:00 pm
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