Lunch with Mayor Phillips at Fonfon is a time to remember.
By Jan Walsh
The past 18 months have stolen much from me. And I feel the need to make up for lost time. Oneonta Mayor, Richard Phillips is like a son to me. He was in the first class I taught as a teacher at Oneonta City Schools. Teachers do have “favorites,” and he was one of mine. And once we found each other, we never let go… always been there for me: baby-sitting, dog sitting, helping start up my two businesses and working with me in both ever since. The two of us always found a way to keep our lives woven tightly together, even throughout the pandemic, when we could not be together as often.
Today we attempt to make up for lost time, seize the present time, and give little thought to the future with a celebration (of just being together) lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Chez Fonfon. “Fonfon” is the Stitt’s French bistro, which is situated alongside Frank and Pardis’ jewel, Highlands Bar and Grill in 5 Points, nearby their also fabulous Italian restaurant, Bottega, on Highland Avenue. Chez Fonfon’s patio lifted my spirits even in the worst of times. And today the weather is patio perfection, shady and 79 degrees, and our table is waiting.
I select a 2018 vintage of Sancerre A. Neveu La Cote de Monts Damnés for us to toast this day. Its grapes were hand-harvested in the limestone-clay vineyards of Chavignol at “Cote des Monts Damnés.” Served well chilled, its first aroma and taste prove it to be an elegant French, aged long enough to open a full expression of its Sauvignon Blanc fruitiness and its Loire terroir. For starters we have Marinated Olives, Petite Baguette, and Fig Tartine. As we begin to catch up, we tear the warm bread, and slather butter on it. Also shared are the lovely French olives and the tasty tartine, generously topped with in season figs from the Stitt’s Paradise Farm, ricotta, honey, prosciutto, and mint. The fig tartine fits our carpe diem mentality, being a seize the moment dish, a temporary transition from late summer to early fall.
For entrees, Kev orders the Beef Daube–short ribs. I am torn between todays’ two specials, Mississippi Red Fish with orzo salad or Bouillabaisse. Given my hesitancy, our server wisely mentions that the orzo is also a side option, quickly solving my dilemma.
So, I opt for the bouillabaisse with a side of orzo, and Richard follows. I suggest this is just another way we are alike. But he laughs, “No, I just always wait to see what you are going to order and order the same.” Oh, how I have missed his laugh! Kev’s hearty short ribs are fork tender and enhanced by their beautiful red wine braise. They are served with large, meaty olives and the best potato gratin on earth. In the bowls of Bouillabaisse, float a gorgeous filets of Gulf red snapper, superb, succulent shrimp, and divine, delicate mussels in a thick, bready, spicy, saffron flavored, French sauce rouille. Afterall, a bouillabaisse without rouille would be like a day on the patio without sunshine. Highly recommended!
For dessert we all split the Basque Cake Chocolate Caramel Nut Tart. Today’s version of the rich, moist and comforting cake is highlighted with fresh figs from the farm, and is easy to share in its size and shape.
But I admit I never really planned to share much of the tart because I have had the privilege of being in the kitchen with James Beard Award winning, pastry chef, Dolester Miles when she made these tarts. It was all I could do not to ask for one right out of the oven. And I have craved them ever since. The creamy, chocolaty, crunchy, nutty tart is crowned with caramel covered cashews, pecans, and walnuts and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Oh, my! Marvelous as ever… had I not seen her make these, I would swear they came from heaven, not a kitchen!
We part ways with Richard with hugs and insist no matter what is ahead, we will get together again soon… Just what I need, more Fonfon and more Richard. I have not laughed this much in a long time and will not forget this amazing, memorable lunch with the best of my friends.
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