Fromagerie opened in Rumson about 40 years ago. Despite its name, it didn’t specialize in cheese but rather brothers Markus and Hubert Peter offered a classic French/Alsatian menu in a formal setting. It remained the only upscale restaurant in this area of NJ until Restaurant Nicholas came upon the scene in December 1999. We had dinner at Fromagerie soon after it opened but only a couple of times in the ensuing years before the brothers sold it to Chef David Burke ten years ago. He totally revised the menu to contemporary American. Our one and only meal during his tenure was very disappointing. Last year in October, Burke abruptly closed Fromagerie without an explanation. But it didn’t stay closed for too long long. Purchased by Paul and Enilda Sansone, who brought in Chefs Steven Botta and Angelo Bongiovanni to manage it, Fromagerie reopened three months ago.
The menu on the website lists French classics, Italian dishes, and a section devoted to a variety of steaks. It was, of course, the French items that piqued our interest. There are no prices, so we took the approach that “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
We had dinner at Fromagerie last Wednesday (12/7). We arrived shortly before our 9 p.m. reservation. Not that we would have needed one, but it’s too far away (40 minutes) to take the chance of doing a walk-in. And besides, why not get the OpenTable 100 points? As we suspected, the place was dead, i.e., 2 tables in the main dining room each occupied by a couple and another couple seated in the adjoining smaller dining room. So, including us, a total of 8 people. The couple at the table adjacent to ours left shortly after we were seated bringing the number down to 6. We did not look into the bar room to see if anyone was in there.
The dining rooms are lovely, having been refreshed since our visit during Burke’s tenure. Seating is comfortable, nicely-spaced tables are dressed with white linen, a brightly burning fire in the gas fireplace made for a cozy feel, and Christmas decorations are tasteful. Obviously, noise was not an issue. This is the kind of ambiance we love.
Michael looked over the list of wines by the glass and chose a Côte du Rhône at a very reasonable $9/glass. He had two. We’d perused the menu at home and having decided what dishes we planned to order, we checked the menus presented to us to make sure those dishes were on it. The website menu was totally up-to-date. The only item not available that evening was the Cowboy Steak which didn’t matter to us since we weren’t interested in having steak.
Before I get into the particulars, let me say up front that there is excellent cooking going on in Fromagerie’s kitchen. But while all the food we had was delicious, there were some flaws with my dishes.
For the first course, Michael chose the Classic Caesar Salad prepared tableside ($14).
Based on tasting a bit of it, I agreed with him that it was top-notch, one of the best Caesars we’ve had.
As regular followers of this blog know, I am the self-styled “Foie Gras Queen.” So, it will come as no surprise that I couldn’t resist starting with the Pan Seared Foie Gras with Pears and a Port Wine Reduction ($16).
Attractively plated, the foie was perfectly prepared and arrived properly hot though I thought the portion was a bit skimpy. It sat upon two slices of toasted bread that were so hard as to be inedible. The pears were delicious but were ice cold when they should have been warm or at the very least room temperature.
Just after our first courses were served, a young man came to the table with a bread basket holding an excellent selection.
We both chose the sourdough roll. A superior roll, it was warm with a nice crust and was served with butter at the correct temperature. No dish of oil for dipping in sight! A giant plus!
For the mains, the Coq au Vin ($34) was a must have for Michael as it is one of his favorite French bistro dishes. I didn’t taste any of it but he said it was a fine version.
Duck is one of my favorites, so I had the Duck Breast with Cherries & Grappa ($34).
This exceptionally tender and juicy magret was prepared exactly to my medium specification with skin that had been rendered of fat sufficiently to leave it very crisp. Accompaniments were polenta and pickled red cabbage. The plate was finished cherry grappa sauce. Though this was more of an Italian-style preparation than French, I was fine with it. However, here’s where a major problem arose. Now, I love a delicious sauce and this sauce was delicious. But as you can see in the photo, the plate was literally swimming in sauce. Why, you are probably asking, was this a problem? Well, too much sauce meant some of the duck slices lost a bit of that wonderful crispness; the polenta was totally overwhelmed and practically disintegrated into the sauce; and the very tasty red cabbage (not mentioned in the description) was so buried, I didn’t realize it was there until my fork hit the “surprise” mound. I should also add that cutting into the duck slices became an exercise in trying not to splash sauce onto the tablecloth or worse onto my clothing. Ergo, a case of what could have been a superb dish somewhat ruined by plating gone wrong.
For dessert, we shared the Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce ($12).
Most of the profiteroles we’ve had have been filled with ice cream. These were filled with a very tasty pastry cream, a pleasing change as they were much lighter.
With the exception of the foie gras, portions were very generous. Because we are as always big on portion control, we took home some of each main course.
Service throughout the meal by our captain Jonathan was outstanding (he prepared the Caesar). Steven Botta stopped by during our meal to see how things were going and then again at the end at which point we had a lengthy conversation with him. He was very interested in and receptive to our comments. I mentioned the over-saucing problems, and Michael suggested that he put the wine list on the website.
We found the pricing in line with what we pay at most of the high end restaurants we frequent in NYC. It seems fair to us especially considering the quality of the materials Botta is using, including Pat LaFrieda steaks as well as the special grind La Frieda is doing for the burger which, Botta told us, is extremely popular. It’s currently available only on Tuesday nights.
Despite the flaws, I enjoyed this meal, and it’s pretty obvious Michael did as well. To be sure, the A+ service and wonderful ambiance were major factors in that enjoyment. Even though we generally don’t have burgers when we go out to dinner – more of a lunch thing for us – we intend to check out the one here. There are also other things on the menu that appeal to us which we look forward to trying during future visits. We’re pleased that Fromagerie is back!
The photo set of this dinner can be viewed on my Flickr here.