Le Patio

Lunch with my sons on Chez Fonfon’s patio is delicious and delightful.

By Jan Walsh

Today we “travel” to the South of France for lunch, at Chez Fonfon’s patio. This oasis of blooming hydrangeas and lush layers of green, surrounding the bubbling water fountain, soothes the eye and the soul. “The Boys” are home for Mother’s Day week, and we are the first ones on the patio. I am seated across from them so that I can see both in one view. Neither have been on the patio before and they are captivated. From Highland’s screen door, framed with a vintage cyan French shutter, Chef Frank Stitt emerges, walks over, and graciously greets us. This is the cerise sur le gâteau of our joie de vivre, as we sip cocktails of Bucolique, Strawberry Paloma, and Mountain Valley Sparkling Water.

We tear the warm petite baguette, slather it with cold butter, and pair it with marinated French olives. Ross is so impressed with his Bucolique, he inquires how it is made, only to quickly realize that he needs to leave this one to the pros. Calvados, an apple brandy with Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status and can only be produced in Normandy, shines with notes of apple, baking spices, honey, and bitters. The Strawberry Paloma is a patio pleaser and thirst quencher of tequila, strawberry, grapefruit, lime, and soda on the rocks.

As we discuss the menu, I smile at my sons’ ever-growing culinary curiosity and their au fait with food from past experiences. Both sons cooked in my kitchen since they were young boys. Ross kept the stove hot, and Jordan kept the grill fired up until they grew up and moved out. And now when they come home from their homes in Florida, every visit is planned around food.

For la petite cuisine, Jordan orders Steak Tartare. Ross selects Escargots. And I opt for Jumbo Asparagus with Farm Egg. Jordan enjoys this fresh, cold French delicacy of raw, spiced, ground beef with cornichons and arugula for flavor and texture. As the carnivore of the family, he declares it the best he has ever had! As the escargots arrive, sizzling in a cast iron snail dish, their steamy, buttery, and garlicy appetizing aromas float through the spring air leaving enticing others along its trail. This “contagious” dish makes everyone wish they ordered it. Buttery toasted bread crowns the top of each tender, tantalizing snail, brightened with parsley and shallots. I never miss the jumbo asparagus when it is in season. Fork-tender due to its preparation, the asparagus were first shaved to lessen the fibrousness resulting in a softer, more edible plant. They are topped off with Paradise Farm eggs and egg salad, vinaigrette, and watercress. Hurry in before the season ends for this one.

From the les grands plats, it is Lamb Shank Navarin for Jordan and Veal Tenderloin for Ross. I select the specialite du jour of Scallops Brochette paired with one of my favorite wines, Côtes de Bordeaux Château Puyanché ’21 Bordeaux, which our server, Nathan reminds I ordered it last time. Ross asks what cocktail would pair with the veal, and I defer to Nathan. He quickly recommends Sazerac and impressively describes nuances of the flavors and compatibilities.

Jordan’s hearty navarin is full of vim and vigor. This French ragout, in white wine, is a savory synthesis of turnips, carrots, and cipollini onions surmounted with tender lamb shank that falls off the bone. A man pleaser! Ross’ veal is a beautiful display of colorful in season veggies and earthy mushrooms in sauce béarnaise, with a crown of vibrant, melt in the mouth veal. Bring a big appetite and high expectations. My delicate skewered scallops are juxtaposed with thick lardons, as porky place holders, proving opposites do attract. The proteins are served atop an elegant rice pilaf on a pool of beautiful beurre rouge. The dish is light yet fulfilling, and the perfect plate for this spring patio.

For dessert, Chef Stitt treats us to Strawberries and Cream. An array of bright, peak of the season, sliced berries are complemented by crème anglaise, and finished with a dallop of diplomat cream. This scrumptious bowl is bursting with fruity flavor and soothes the palate with its creaminess. Pick this splendid dessert before strawberry season ends.

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