Chez Fonfon is classically French and absolutely excellent.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Excellence is easy to observe and difficult to replicate. Frank and Pardis Stitt replicate excellence without replicating restaurants. Each of their eateries (Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, Bottega Cafe, and Chez Fonfon) has its own identity, style, cuisine, and standard of excellence. With each dining experience comes a renewed respect for the Stitts. Being a bit of a Francophile, Chez Fonfon satisfies my appetite for French bistro fare and French wine.
Arriving for dinner, polite valets park the car in the lot alongside Highlands. Located next door, the warm glow of Chez Fonfon’s tall, arched, windows welcome us inside. Like any good, French Bistro, Chez Fonfon is bustling. Laughter and conversation rises from dinner guests seated at the banquettes and small antique bistro chairs. We follow the hostess to our table, past the antique server boasting French tarts, coconut cake, and other dessert offerings. A delightful feeling of déjà vu is sensed, which I attribute to my evenings spent at Napa Valley’s Bouchon and Parisian cafes.
The ambience is not only familiar, but also happy and comfortable. Three tall, arched mirrors—hanging above the wall-long, golden, leather banquette—mirror themselves and three identical mirrors across the space hanging above the bar. Light from vintage, white globes illuminates the gleaming and golden, mustard-colored walls. Wall sconce globes spotlight a collection of whimsical French art. In the center of the café, two columns rise above a half wall banquette, dividing the bar area from the main dining room. And for dining al fresco there a rustic patio and a boule court out back.
Chez Fonfon’s cuisine is French provincial. The back wall is racked with wines that pair well with French bistro fare, predominately French. Our friendly server, Katia Queyriaux is well versed in the café’s French cuisine, although her lovely accent is Ukrainian. Glasses of Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé Bailly-Lapierre 2006 are selected as a starter wine. The La Petite Cuisine list of offerings is distinguished by size, rather than lightness. Many tempting options including a soup du jour, Charcuterie Platter, Frisée aux lardoons (poached farm egg with red wine vinaigrette), Escargots, and Quiche Lorraine are among the offerings. And you do not need a Lesson in French to read the menu, as the offerings are translated in English. From the list we choose The Duck Confit and a dish of grilled and cured sausages.
Dinner begins with a bite of bread. Unfortunately, some restaurants overlook the importance of a diner’s first impression, the bread, and last impression, dessert. Chez Fonfon’s first impression, a paper-lined metal basket of sliced French breads and French butter is fresh and delicious. The Duck Confit arrives atop green lentils, and surrounded by frisée with walnuts and beets. The duck is crisp outside and tender inside. The meat’s richness is complemented by the firm texture of the lentils, the crunchiness of the walnuts and the cold, refreshing beets. And the sausage dish is both flavorful and fun. A small platter filled with sausages, salami, boiled egg slices, cornichons, paper-thin slices of chilled red potato, radishes, and céleri root, mustard for dipping, and olives. The variety and contrast of the dish is satisfying but not heavy, comforting but not simple. And I could make a meal of these wonderful olives.
Queyriaux describes tonight’s two Spécialité du Jour. One option is a simple grilled triggerfish with gribiche sauce or fennel, grilled onion, parsley and mint. And the other is Lobster with butternut squash venoute. I am immediately sold on the lobster and pair it with a French wine from Loire, Sancerre Reverdy 2006. The Les Grand Plats list includes French bistro classics of Croque Monsieur (ham and cheese) and Croque Madame (grilled ham and comté with fried egg), Coq au vin, Moules et frites (mussels steamed in white wine and shallots. And from this list we select the Steak Frites.
The split lobster tail and claws are a presented in a shallow, white dish atop the gorgeous butternut and vanilla bean sauce dotted with bites of apple. The delicate sauce is enhanced by the sweetness and gentle crunch. The tender lobster frees itself from the shell easily. Dipping the lobster into the sauce, I pierce a piece of the apple onto the fork, making the perfect bite. The synthesis of flavors is amazing and a taste that I shall not forget. Being a food writer brings ongoing opportunities to evolve the palate. As my recognition of and appreciation for excellence continues to evolve, the standard gets raised by new benchmark moments. And this highly recommended dish raises the mark. Aromas of the rib-eye steak arrive just before the steak. It is hot and juicy and served with its delicious maitre d’ butter, a small salad and pommes frites (French fries). I have long been a fan of these frites, with their crisp, golden exterior and a moist and fluffy interior.
Dessert brings another look at the charming paper menu that also serves as a placemat. Lemon Meringue Tart, Chocolate pot de crème, Gateau Orange, Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine, and the coconut cake—spied as we entered—all tempt. Yet we order the tart. And in an effort to broaden my Chez Fonfon experience, I overcome the temptation to order my favorite dessert—the pot de crème—and order the other chocolate dessert, the terrine. The last impression begins with the desserts presentation. A tall swirl of meringue rises above the large, lemon custard filled, deep tart crust. And a taste of lemon takes center stage in this tangy and tart delectable dessert. The Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine is shaped like a terrine outside and has the same mosaic design of a terrine inside as pieces of pistachios and raisins dot the dessert. And each crunchy bite of chocolate is dipped into the spoonful of cream, which balances the bitter chocolate with a hint of sweetness. If you are a Chocoholic but not a sweet tooth, this dessert is for you.
First impressions are important. So are last impressions. And from lunch through dinner, the French bread to the French pastries, Stitt’s attention to detail and execution of excellence is evident in every bite.