Posts Tagged ‘resto’

Rob’s Bistro – Madison, NJ

January 7th, 2010

Rob’s Bistro
75 Main Street
Madison, NJ
973-377-0067

http://robsbistro.com/

Rob’s Bistro opened in December of 2009. The restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Rob Ubhaus, chef and owner of the excellent Resto, which I wrote about in October. Chef Ubhaus seems to have a knack for knowing what Madison needs and filling the gap, or perhaps he is simply in the right place at the right time. Either way, Rob’s Bistro is a new concept for the area (if one disregards The Show Bistro that lived a very short life in Chatham a few years back), providing the neighborhood with a very fine traditional French bistro.

Decor and Ambiance:

Rob’s Bistro is in the space formerly occupied by the satisfactory but rather blah Terre Mare, and directly next door to Resto, the similar signage reflecting the relationship of the two restaurants. Chef Ubhaus has removed the imposing stucco frontage, replacing it with full glass windows. The interior is inviting in warm earth-tones, featuring wood tables and chairs, with unfussy table settings with stemless glassware.

On the walls are oil landscapes in pastel pallettes by the same artist whose paintings are featured in Resto; an artist I’m not over the moon about to begin with. They’re not distracting, just rather boring, especially having seen the same numerous times in the sister restaurant. I would have preferred photographs of French bistro life perhaps, or paintings by a different artist. This is truly a minor distraction however. When the menu arrives, pretty much all else is forgotten.

Our Menu (from various lunches and dinner):

Appetizers:
– Soupe à l’oignon gratinée
– Soupe du jour (cauliflower)
– Cheese & charcuterie platter
– Chèvre & caramelized onion tart

Entrees/Sides:
– Seared chicken breast salade – frisée, lardons, fines herbs, dijon vinaigrette
– Rob’s Bistro burger – bacon, caramelized onions, Les Freres cheese
– Croque monsieur
– Jambon & gruyère crêpe
– House roasted turkey and brie crêpe – granny smith apples
– Coucroute garnie – pork, bacon, and sauerkraut
– Entrecôte – rosemary potato gratin
– Buttered noodles

Desserts:
– Crème brûlée
– Chocolate mousse

Visit their website for the full menu.

Pictured left to right: soupe à l’oignon gratinée; chèvre and caramelized onion tart; coucroute garnie; entrecôte; crème brûlée.

Degustation:

Rob’s Bistro serves the best French onion soup I’ve had in a long time. Possibly ever. The broth itself is well-seasoned, meaty and a touch herbaceous, with a beautifully rich texture. The cheese is melted, not darkly browned, so that it is easier to eat than when one comes up with a clump of cheese that was broiled into one solid mass, as I’ve found is typical of most restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that this way you are able to enjoy separate bites of warm, soft cheese, and maintain a bit of decorum.

The cheese and charcuterie platter presented a very nice variety when we had it – three cheeses and a couple of dried sausage, with the typical garnish of country mustard and cornichons. I imagine the cheese and meats will change depending on what is available and at the chef’s discretion. I would have preferred that the toast that came with it be a bit thicker or the cheese softer. Spreading cheese on the thin pieces of toasted baguette was impossible, but that did not stop us from devouring every morsel.

The chèvre and carmelized onion tart is distinctly different than other cheese and onion tart I’ve tasted. The firm pastry crust is a sturdy container for sweet, thinly sliced, caramelized onions, which are then topped with a cool and incredibly creamy goat cheese. It comes atop a salad of chopped frisée, which is a nice peppery foil for the sweetness of the onions and cheese.

The highlights of the entrees we sampled go to the Bistro burger, a deliciously moist and distinctly home-made style hamburger; the fresh house-roasted turkey crêpe with caramelized onions and granny smith apple, which is perfectly sweet and savory; and the entrecôte, a beautifully tender, juicy cut of beef.

While the entrecôte and the pork of the choucroute were nicely seared, I found them a bit under-salted. However, this is personal preference. I tend to season meat with reckless abandon.

Even more delicious than the noted entrees were two of the sides. The rosemary potato gratin, which was served with the entrecôte, is hands down the best gratin I have ever been served. It is well scented with rosemary, with a creamy, tooth-giving texture enveloped by a parchment-crisp crust. The buttered noodles were plain buttered egg noodles, but so well seasoned with parsley and pepper that it could have been an entree (which, as it turns out, is indeed often served to children as a main course). Both sides may be ordered on their own from the sides selections of the dinner menu.

I will need to make a few more trips to get to some more of the desserts, as I tend to be a glutton for the savory stuff, but I highly recommend the crème brûlée. There’s just the right amount of custard, while the sugar is delightfully thin and breaks with a satisfying crack. I overheard that the tarte tatin is made-to-order, and is definitely on my wish list.

Service:

The host, while a perfectly nice gentlemen, seems a bit lost in his role. It’s as if he can do only one thing at a time, and is not entirely sure what that one thing should be. He is genuinely concerned that the customers are enjoying their experience, but that’s pretty much where his involvement ends. I have seen him bus a table or two on occasion (there is no busser, only the servers and the host), but not nearly lend his hand to the dining room as he could have, which I find mildly frustrating to observe.

The servers however, we have met four, are great (although one of them, as well as the host, make the cringe-inducing error of calling me and my guest “guys”). They are willing to take time to discuss the menu and customer preferences. There is one woman, Lisa, whose service impresses me greatly. During service she is always there, but never hovering, and seems to know what you need almost before you need it. In my opinion, servers like that are worth their weight in gold, and I hope she has a long and successful career with Chef Ubhaus.

End:

Rob’s Bistro gives a high-end impression in a comfortable atmosphere. It is not inexpensive, as dinner entrees hover in the $20 range, but the experience and food are worth it, and the fact that it’s a BYO makes it that much less expensive than it could be. Lunch prices are quite reasonable.

The downside is that there is no lunch service on Saturday, though beginning in a few weeks there will be a Sunday brunch. Reservations for dinner are strongly recommended, as my guest and I watched the place fill up on a Wednesday night to capacity. Children are welcome, but the crowd tends to lean toward the older set.

Rob’s Bistro is sure to become our personal choice for casual dining in Madison. It’s an absolute delight.

Resto – Madison, NJ

October 6th, 2009

Resto is a charming 26-seat BYO restaurant on Main Street in Madison that serves, per their website, contemporary French cuisine. I’d say that description could be stretched to include some southern and continental fusion. Whatever the description, dishes here are certainly creative, thoughtful and new. It is a particularly welcome establishment for an area that suffered from too many Italian restaurants, mourned the loss of the very fine Mama Tucci Ristorante (yes, Italian, but good) and then celebrated the loss of the mediocre Piccolo who each retired from the space Resto now occupies.

Decor and Ambiance:

While the decor by Mama Tucci was warmly Tuscan in hues of ochre, sunflower yellow, and rose red, Piccolo downgraded that to a finish that could only be described as “brown.” Both establishments offered customers a tiny restroom inconveniently located in the kitchen. Diners would have to go up four stairs through the kitchen, trying not to bump into anything (or anyone) at the chef’s station (me hoping they washed their hands), and the service station on the main level was mostly open to public view, a pet peeve of mine.

Resto has managed to brighten the place considerably in provincial white, green, and yellow, with tastefully appropriate oil paintings of the French countryside. It is quite a feat to have created a feeling of light and warmth using only wall color, paintings, and votives. I’m beginning to see a theme where less decoration may mean be better food.

The charming thing for me is that through these changes and renovations, the light fixtures the owners of Mama Tucci had purchased are still in place. It tickles me.

Oh, and the bathroom? Now it’s luxuriously big and on the main level; no longer in the kitchen.

The restaurant is small, so not appropriate for impatient children or very loud parties.

Menu (from various dinners and brunch):

Appetizers:
– Sweetbreads – porcini dusted with beet sauce
– Crisp Australian Filet Mignon “Wellington” – foie gras “au poivre” creme fraiche
– “Soup & Sandwich” – chilled green zebra virgin “bloody mary” & comté grilled cheese
– Lamb Pâté – pickled onion, truffle creme, glaciale

Entrees:
– Seared Flat Iron Steak – porcini mushroom bread pudding & truffled red wine reduction
– Grilled Pork Tenderloin – bacon-scallion corn bread & hazelnut romesco sauce
– Roasted Lemon-Thyme Quail – warm wild rice & farmer’s market ratatouille salad
– Barnegat Light Day Boat Scallops – fennel, asparagus, fingerling potato ragout & smoked tomato sauce

Brunch Dishes:
– Steak Frites
– Sea Bass – white bean, tomato, mitzuna & spring onion salad

Desserts:
– Funnel Cake – black mission fig jam
– Chocolate Mille-feuille – raspberry coulis
– Pumpkin Pie Mousse – gingerbread tuile

Pictured: Sea Bass, Steak Frites, Sweetbreads, Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Degustation:

There’s the old saying that one should not trust a skinny chef, but I’d give Chef Ubhaus an exception.

Sweetbreads are a touchy food, and downright nasty when they are over or under cooked. We were impressed that these were cooked slightly crisp outside and incredibly tender, very light inside. Though I have had plenty of beet purees, I don’t recall having a beet sauce. It enhanced the subtle earthiness of the dish. This was a special on the menu, which is too bad because I would love to order it again.

The Australian Filet Mignon “Wellington” is ridiculously rich and a bit oversize for an appetizer. This portion could easily serve two. Imagine instead of the mushroom duxelles being on top of the meat, it is rolled up inside the meat and the pastry crust and then deep fried into a sort of Wellington egg roll. It pretty much goes directly to the heart on many levels. One must have it, and probably should share it.

I loved the “Soup & Sandwich,” probably because it combines so many things I love, namely: Comté, melted cheese, cheese in general, tomatoes, chilled soup in the summer, anything reminiscent of tomato soup and grilled cheese, and dishes that have hot-and-cold elements. The soup itself has a very nice kick of heat, resembling a green gazpacho. The lovely little grilled cheese with is, well, grilled cheese, which hardly needs improving.

The lamb pâté was delicious enough to keep us from being completely distracted by the ficoïde glaciale, or “ice lettuce,” which had been written about in the New York Times in late September. A green reminiscent of arugula, but crispy and not so peppery, Chef had dressed this with a light vinaigrette, and added pickled onions and a truffled creme which served as perfect companions to the country-style pâté.

The steak and the pork tenderloin were both perfectly prepared, but it was their accompaniments that really stood out. The porcini bread pudding, aside from having a delicious autumnal flavor, was the perfect texture of creamy and crusty. And the pork nearly became a delivery system for the cornbread with smoky bacon and scallion, and the creamy hazelnut romesco sauce.

The quail had a lovely crisp skin and the meat was tender, but there was an awful lot of rice and sadly not much ratatouille to be seen.

The scallops were also nicely seared, and the asparagus/fennel/potato ragout is a great combination, but my companion felt the serving too large and thus too rich and felt it would be better as an appetizer. I felt that if the sauce had been a more vibrant sauce (wine or lemon) it would not have been quite so overwhelming. The smoked tomato sauce was delicious, but I thought it would have been better with pork perhaps.

Brunch is not being served at Resto at the moment. They purchased the restaurant space that is directly next door, formerly occupied by Terra Mare, and are working on a bistro to open in October or November that will serve brunch. This is good news because brunch at Resto is simply out of this world. See the steak frites and sea bass photos above. In addition to these savory entrées, Chef makes a fantastic scrambled egg with truffle, among omelettes, crêpes, and other lovely brunch dishes.

Desserts so far have been underwhelming. While the funnel cake was deliciously warm and crisp, the black mission fig jam that went with it was, while nicely figgy, cold and slightly gummy, so it couldn’t be spread. The chocolate mille-feuille was really disappointing, with what should have been a crisp pastry being too moist and the chocolate filling too cold, as if the entire thing had been kept in the refrigerator. The pumpkin mousse itself was incredibly good; it was heavenly light and not too sweet. However, the candied pumpkin seeds were chewy, and the ginger tuile was not at all crispy or gingery, a total distraction from how perfect the mousse was.

Service

Service here is genuinely warm. One is made to feel that they’re actually happy to see you. The host and servers work together to create a fairly seamless experience. Chef Ubhaus does come and visit when he has time, and he likes to talk about food and purveyors, and will eagerly answer any questions.

End

Although there are some downsides to the cuisine (in large part the dessert) the plusses far outweigh the cons. Resto is a great neighborhood restaurant, worth traveling to for a special occasion, a relaxed dinner with one’s partner, or a casual business dinner. I’m looking forward to its sister restaurant, and the return of brunch!