The Saugatuck is not the Seine but it does have one thing in common – a charming French restaurant on its banks. In Westport, the Rive Bistro is a delightful place to spend a few hours “in France” without the distressing hassles of airports and customs.
Marsha and I have been recalling our summer-long honeymoon in Europe with local experiences. Roughly paralleling our ten-week driving tour from those many years ago, we’ve been following our journey at area restaurants.
This leg of our honeymoon drive through France fifty years ago took us from Provence to Paris. The route went along many famous rivers – the Rhône, Saône, and finally the Seine – through picturesque mountains and past storybook castles to the City of Light.
The Rive Bistro readily conjured up our French memories. The vintage Citroën and Deux Chevaux cars parked out front set the stage. On a perfect summer evening, we sat on the patio under a striped awning watching the lazy traffic of birds and boats on the river and the ever-changing fashion show of our fellow guests.
Sipping a Lillet Blanc and nibbling on good bread and butter while surveying the menu made it easy to settle into “French” mode. We stuck (mostly) to the classics. Pâté de Campagne ($14) is a benchmark for French chefs. This was a good one, accompanied by the de rigueur cornichons and some greens with a mustardy vinaigrette. Watermelon contrasted with tangy tomato in a refreshing gazpacho ($11).
Plump mussels ($28) were cooked with white wine and herbs in a black-enamel steamer emblazoned with the word “Moules.” Lifting the lid released a cloud of enticing aroma. Irresistibly crisp and salty frites accompanied.
Trout Almondine ($28) had been quickly sautéed and lavishly dressed with slivered almonds and butter, just as the French like it. Tender carrots and slim haricots were a colorful foil on the plate.
Reims, the home of Champagne, was the next stop after Paris. At home, Marsha and I popped the cork on a bottle of Veuve Clicquot (an anniversary gift) and remembered the cold rainy day when we toured the Mumm winery. Genuine Champagne is made only in this region in a labor-intensive hands-on process.
Most Champagne is sold by brand. You’ll recognize the big labels from celebrations and special occasions. Every house has its own characteristic flavor and style – each with strong fans. Wine from grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir are grown in vineyards surrounding the charming cathedral city and then fermented twice, once to make the wine and a second time in the bottle to make the bubbles.
We only spent one night in Belgium after leaving France. A multicultural country about the size of Maryland, French, Dutch, and Flemish are spoken. At Bruxelles Brasserie in South Norwalk, the diversity is evident on their menu. Our friend Myriam Bossuyt, a native of Belgium, joined us to guide us through the menu.
“This is just like my mother made,” she exclaimed about the Belgian Endive au Gratin ($18). Chef Roland Olah beamed at her praise. Braised in béchamel sauce, the heads of the endive were filled with gruyère and wrapped in ham – rich and satisfying. Bossuyt also praised the Belgian Croquettes ($14) flavored with Serrano ham and cheese, remembering the kitchen tool from her childhood that squeezed out long tubes of the potato mix.
Marsha marveled at her fat mussels ($23) steamed with Belgian ale, Dijon cream and leeks, accompanied by those famous Belgian frites. Steak Frites ($32) is a crossover dish popular in both France and Belgium. Be sure to ask for both delicious classically-prepared sauces, Béarnaise and Bordelaise, to avoid choosing.
At Bruxelles, there is a comprehensive selection of Belgian beers. Gin bowls, cooling in the warm weather, offered with a choice of craft brands, are a specialty of the bar. Large windows look out at the bustling SoNo scene. Vintage posters decorate the exposed brick. From some tables you can see the kitchen in action.
This summer, restaurant-chair travel is taking us back in time. The memories, I’m happy to say, are as good as the food.
Please forward this to anyone who would enjoy restaurant information like this and encourage them to sign up. Thanks, Frank
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.