Is it France or Ridgefield?
By Frank Whitman
Soup de poisson, vol au vent, galette complète, frisée lardons, and poulet chasseur – it could have been a menu from a place on the Rue Cler in the 7th. Instead we were on the less exotic but more local Main Street in Ridgefield. Still, inside the Brasserie St Germain, it was easy to imagine Paris just beyond the door.
Ridgefield has a long tradition of French restaurants going back to the 1950s when Stonehenge, The Elms, and The Ridgefield Inn created a surprisingly sophisticated enclave of Gallic-cooking in an otherwise country setting.
That tradition has endured. Luc’s Café, in town since 2001, has a large and loyal following for its authentic bistro food and atmosphere. Until recently, Sucré Salé was a casual crêperie and restaurant while Bernard’s was a destination for fine French dining.
But now there has been a reshuffle, like chess pieces moving around a culinary game board.
Frank Bonnaudet and Virginie Kharouby, the husband and wife owners of Sucré Salé, moved up the French culinary ladder from bistro to brasserie with the stylish St. Germain. Sensing an opportunity to shed the 24/7 restaurant life, Sarah and Bernard sold Bernard’s and opened À Table, a gourmet prepared foods shop in the former Sucré Salé location. A new Norwalk-based team took over the Bernard’s location and created an upscale, “French inspired” menu at The Benjamin.
Lots of new places, but just a few new faces.
The tempting and comprehensive menu at Brasserie St. Germain makes it hard to choose. Four of us at lunch had no trouble ordering without repeats. Marsha’s fragrant and tender mussels came with crisp frites that I got to share. In my galette complète ham, cheese and a fried egg were neatly folded in a buckwheat crêpe. The accompanying salad was dressed with a delicious, typically French, vinaigrette.
Marsha’s sister started with a light and flavorful asparagus-spinach soup and then moved on to a classic spinach and goat cheese quiche. Her husband ordered the not-very-French, but very delicious, lobster roll – a generous and satisfying portion.
Warm crisp-crusted baguettes were served with good butter by the attentive staff.
The dessert sampler conveniently included four darling, miniature desserts: lemon meringue tart, chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, and eclair.
The newly-decorated space is modern but unmistakably French. The seating area, furnished with dark wood tables and art deco style chairs, lies between the bar and the open raw-bar kitchen. In a central lounge are cozy sofas surrounded by shelves loaded with culinary books. A separate, more dressy room has black leather chairs and contemporary food art on the walls.
À Table has quickly become the centerpiece of The Marketplace at Copps Hill Plaza where its neighbors are 109 Cheese and Wine, the Ross Bakery, and the Southwest Cafe. Rotisserie chicken and duck are a speciality. Roasted meats, prepared sides and frozen hors d’oeuvre are all hard to resist. Ready-to-eat salads and tempting pastries are made in house. Seasonal specials are posted on a chalkboard by the door. Bernard and Sarah are continuing their famous catering from this location and have just added online ordering.
We brought home beautiful salad Niçoise for dinner, frozen Braised Short Rib Spring Rolls for future entertaining, an irresistible bouquet of flowers and a long want-list of things that will bring us back.
While Marsha and her sister shopped at the eclectic Nancy Os, just across the parking lot, for yarn and clothes, I scouted the excellent 109 Wine and Cheese shop next door.
We haven’t made it to The Benjamin yet, but the word on the street is good. Our lunch companions had been there a few weeks earlier for a wedding and pronounced it “excellent.”
As you might guess, in the close-knit restaurant world, there’s a thread of shared locations, customers and staff running through all three places. Our professional waiter, Chris, at St. Germain had previously worked for the Bouïssous at Bernards. Sarah remembered him well and fondly. Everyone was eager to
share tales about the other places which, by all accounts, seem to be doing well.
Ridgefield has developed into a fine restaurant town, but its unique Gallic heritage and tradition sets it apart. Vive la France!