En Plein Air

Chez Fonfon’s patio is a colorful canvas for Frank Stitt’s French palette.

By Jan Walsh

Today we are warmly welcomed to lunch at Chez Fonfon, by both Frank and Pardis Stitt. After a brief visit Pardis takes us to our table on the patio where we catch up further.

If I were a French Impressionist painter, I would bring my French box easel to lunch here and paint this patio scene, as I ate. Seated across from the water fountain, in the center of the patio, its soft, babbling rush is music to our ears. The French well-shaped fountain is enveloped with the tiny green leaves of a vine that also covers the adjoining wall. Well-spaced bistro tables dot the length of the patio with pebbles below and a white canopy above. At each end of the patio are white umbrellas, which cover the tables beyond the canopy’s reach. Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir’s works were painted en plein air—in the open air). And a large white umbrella was used to diffuse light. Diffused light also naturally enhances Stitt’s colorful French wines and cuisine.

I begin with a glass of my favorite white wine, a Sancerre. And today’s selection is a gorgeous glass of A. Neveu “Le Manoir Vieilles Vignes.”

And I pair it with the Sweet Corn Bisque. I love soup of all types: clear and thick, hot and cold, veggie soups and seafood chowders. And Fonfon has some of the best. My favorite soup is French Onion. And Fonfon’s French Onion soup is a food memory I shall never forget—the best I have ever tasted. And today’s bisque proves to be just as good. It arrives warm and steamy, and crowned with a touch of peppery heat. Just perfect for this place, the patio, and this time, early fall. The beautiful bisque is thick in body and bursting with flavorful bits of late summer, sweet corn. And these bits are not easy to come by. My grandmother taught me how to cut corn for creamed corn: slicing each kernel off the cob in three cuts to milk it and dice it in the process. I have memories of being covered both by the time we cut enough for one meal. But cutting it right was worth it then and still is in each and every bite of this bisque.

For entrees, Kev orders Omelette “Basque style,” a style that originated in the Basque country in southwest France. Golden goodness of farm eggs shine in this omelette that is evenly cooked with comté cheese, for a moist, and glistening omelette—with no browning. Stitt’s version is also chock full of diced, sautéed peppers and ham that blend in beautifully. A generous serving of Fonfon’s famous, golden frites and a small green salad round out the plate.

I opt for Drum, with orzo salad and my choice of sweet pepper and olive relish. The drum fish is golden on the outside and white on the inside with a mild flavor similar to snapper. It floats on a bed of light yet fulfilling orzo, cooked al dente. The last time I had Stitt’s orzo salad, I was inspired to make my own at home. I ordered Greek orzo. Yet could not read the Greek label. So, I thought I would wing it, but was surprised to learn these tiny grains of pasta take longer to cook than expected—yet turn to mush if overcooked. And the extraordinary sweet olive and pepper relish crowns the fish with complex variety of olives and peppers along with purple onion in an acidic vinaigrette. This dish is the epitome of Fonfon. Sounds simple on the menu, but it takes much technique and talent to bring forth the beauty of each product into an endless parade of flavors on the palate.

We fret over a dessert to share. You choose… No, you choose. Kev finally gives in and orders pastry chef, Dolester Miles’ famous Coconut Pecan Cake. We have had this cake many times through the decades. Yet we agree that today’s slice is the best ever: tall, moist, nutty, and rich in both texture and taste, without being too sweet. And its creaminess, from the top layer to its bottom of crème anglaise are the icing on the cake!


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