Conte de FEES: Madame Claude Cafe

RER 9.28.12
RER 9.28.12
Once upon a time, on a precarious corner in Jersey City, four hungry diners met at the French Bistro, Madame Claude Cafe, for a double date. A note on the door described “No Credit Cards Accepted,” and the bistro is known to be Bring Your Own. The party of four was prepared for the second requisite, but the second required some mild wandering in the area. Luckily a cash machine is close enough, right across the street (whew).

Le roi, la reine, la princesse and le prince, sat at a little plain table for four, simply adorned with the silverware and a small candle, settled in frosted glass. The small dining area was open into the kitchen, warm and inviting with the smells of France and heat. Each was laden with French trinkets and souvenirs, reminiscent of an adventure in the multicultural Paris. An eye catcher in the petit café was the large chalkboard, bringing the feeling to the quotidian. The specials of the evening, scribbled on it, seemed enticing, and enhanced the small, but varied regular menu.

The tale continues like this…

Les Assiettes
Les Escargots
Snails feel mildly exotic, not necessarily on every menu, but they are very present in French fare. These were smothered in a butter, garlic and parsley sauce, that was so aromatic and rich it nearly drowned out the tender snails. The sauce was intensely garlic flavored, a taste that lingered on the tongue throughout the meal. Though clouded with parsley, the butter sauce tasted only of garlic and felt like butter.  The actual escargot were tasty gems, chewy and soft, but meaty at the same time. These snails were delicate and consumed by the flavor of garlic, leaving it almost impossible to find the true flavor of the little snails, other than their smooth texture which almost fell apart in the mouth. ($9)

Calamars en Sauce
Calamari on the other hand is not as foreign to menus as escargot, but here at Madame Claude’s, they are not breaded and fried, but sautéed in a rustic white wine sauce. This left the calamari vulnerable and allows the actual meat to be tasted. The rings were chewy but also buttery and delicate. The sauce was a sharp contrast, tangy and tart, feeling almost vinegary from the wine, with scallions, shreds of carrots, and peppers. The other ingredients were all contrasting flavors, colors and textures, from the succulent calamari. ($10)

Assiette de Pate
The large pate plate, came with several slices of two very different kind of pates, and at the center a little bowl filled with tiny pickled treats (cipolini, baby olives, gerkins). One of the pates was smoother and creamy, and it spread on the bread almost like a butter would. This variety was more “livery” tasting, but sophisticated and decadent. The other was more chunky, stained glassed with different textures and flavors. This pate felt more rustic, heavily flavored with moments of garlic and salt.  The baby pickles with their tangy tartness, cut the richness of the liver. (Large $16/ Small $12-imported)

Plats Principaux
Beef Burgundy
The beef burgundy stew was described being accompanied by a heap of rice, but the plate arrived sans rice. The shallow bowl was filled with meat pieces and course chopped onions and mushrooms, and very little liquid gravy. The meat was tender, but did not contain much flavor. The rice could have been a good base, to make the dish more substantial, but there was plenty of meat. A side accoutrement was a fried potato ball. The inside was like fried dough, soft and airy, while the outside was crunchy and golden. These did not really taste of potato but had their faint essence.

Seafood Bouillabaisse
The seafood bouillabaisse was another special that evening. The fish, muscles, and calamari were delicious, but the broth was too salty and seafood briny. Part of the enjoyable thing about seafood is that natural salt that comes with it but in this case it was too intense. All the bits in the soup were succulent and soft, not over cooked in the least and really fresh. The interactive crouton with a garlic aioli and cheese, added fun and other flavors and crunchy textures.

Couscouse Madame Claude
The couscous dish from the a la carte menu was delicious. On first glance the dish seemed rudimentary; the presentation was not lovely and the components were all the same rusty brown color. But once the scent floated into the nose, it invaded and was hypnotizing. The dish was spicy and warm with cinnamon and Moroccan spices. There also other large elements like a piece of orange squash, and juicy chicken, and a delicate but meaty lamb sausage, all bathed in the seasoning and spices. ($21)

Jarret d’Agneau au Romarin et au Vin Blanc
This was a very simple meat veggie potato kind of meal; braised lamb shank, petit pois and gratin dauphinois. The lamb was cooked well, tender and juicy, but it was glazed with a sauce that did not compliment the meat. The sauce was a heavy dark gravy, but almost unnecessary. The peas were delicious; they were small beads of freshness that countered the rich meatiness of the lamb and the creamy heavy potatoes. ($22)

Les Desserts
Dessert time was crepe time. The lemon and sugar crepe, was tart and sweet at the same time, eased by the rubbery thin pancake. When it was lemony it was super super tart, with a highly lemon pungency. The other was a special request; it was a crepe with cooked pear and caramel (instead of the chocolate on the menu). The caramel was chosen in an effort to gain the sweet layers, instead of the bitter tastes that chocolate can produce. But in the end, the caramel was burnt, and was just as bitter as dark chocolate. The crème brulee would have been superb had the crystallized sugar on top not been burnt to almost black. The sugars on top are meant to create a browned crust, but this had been given too much heat. The burned flavor plagued the dessert and masked the lovely custard underneath.

La Morale de l’histore
The service seemed a bit confused. The four were given the specials run down by one waitress, who had just arrived to work and was out of the loop. They gave their orders to another. The place is small so perhaps sharing tables is how the wait staff operates, but in some instances this rendered them forgotten. The royal couples had to ask for bread after seeing many of the other tables receiving it as well as a bucket to keep their white wine chilled. They had to flag down someone to take their mains order. No one even came by the table to ask if everything was ok. There was limited order to the small restaurant, and as usual, their meal took much longer than necessary. The staff was understanding, however when the princess’s crepe came with caramel and chocolate, and after stating that she did not like chocolate it was remade.

The meal was not an inexpensive feast, but it was one of luxurious and imported ingredients, and things you do not get to see every day. The quality of ingredients and the preparation was evident, but all in all the French flavors may not have been the princess’s favorites. The appetizers were far more intriguing and satisfying than any of the entrees. And the unfortunate missteps in the dessert and service were alarming considering the higher than low price points. The laissez faire atmosphere did not bode well with the hungry diners, though I suspect two will likely return again.

RER 9.28.12

RER 9.28.12

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