Now David Burke Fromagerie
26 Ridge Road
Rumson, Monmouth County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
Quote from fromagerierestaurant.com: "For nearly 35 years, Fromagerie has been a landmark in Rumson. In the early days, David worked in the Fromagerie kitchen, and found mentors in Markus and Hubert Peter, founders of the restaurant. Their professional relationship evolved into friendship, and as Davidís talent and career grew, he continued to stay in touch with his friends, and often returned to visit the Fromagerie that he loved. David would often say that when the Peters were ready, it was his hope and dream to one day buy Fromagerie which finally took place this past spring. Fitting that the torch be passed to David, he continues to give every customer the best in fine dining with the kind of warmth and hospitality that few restaurants ever achieve, perpetuating the Peters original vision for the Fromagerie."
Throughout the year 2002, Rumson's Fromagerie, one of New Jersey's most prestigious and popular eateries, will be celebrating a significant milestone: its thirtieth anniversary. And in the fragile, often heartbreaking restaurant world where ephemerality is more the rule than the exception, this is no mean feat. Numerous chefs have come and gone in the past three decades -- comprising quite an illustrious alumni association -- but the impeccable quality of the cuisine has, remarkably, remained the same.
And yet, it takes infinitely more than a series of creative chefs and talented group of myrmidons to make a truly exceptional dining establishment, one that will, given the general capriciousness and peripatetic nature of the nation's foodies, stand the test of time. Food, service, and ambiance are generally considered the holy triumvirate in the hired belly's little black book of credits and debits... but there are a host of other variables as well.
In many restaurants, for example, the owner(s) is somewhat akin to an absentee landlord, popping in occasionally to wreak as much havoc as humanly possible before disappearing back into the woodwork. At Fromagerie, on the other hand, the devotion of proprietors Hubert and Marcus Peter to their establishment and their clientele has become almost legendary. Hubert keeps a watchful eye on the back of the house, butchering all the restaurant's meat and making certain that the kitchen remains on track. Marcus, suave and urbane, greets old friends and newcomers with equal congeniality and monitors the prodigious award-winning wine list. I don't think that I have ever paid a call here without one or both of the brothers Peter being in residence.
This is the kind of commitment to quality that goes beyond dollars and cents, that cannot be computed on the bottom line... and it is completely infectious. Just take a gander at the members of the staff. This is not the funereally-complected, pseudo-obsequious old guard going through the motions; these men and women are young, knowledgeable, energetic, and genuinely gracious. They understand instinctively their respective roles in the midst of this pulsating gestalt, and they carry them through with mellifluous grace.
And you will find the setting as comfortable as the service is competent. Refreshingly absent is the usual dose of ostentatious glitz and glitter or the oppressively somber surroundings indigenous to most temples of haute cuisine. The Fromagerie's loyal patrons don't come to worship at a gastronomic shrine but to engage in a joyous celebratory feast, the rustic chalet-style interior providing the perfect venue for a pleasantly upbeat evening at table.
The food, of course, remains utterly incomparable. I have dined at this charming establishment in a variety of circumstances, both à deux and en masse -- at wine events, with wedding rehearsals in full swing, New Year's Eve, and on numerous special and/or romantic occasions -- and the kitchen has yet to miss a beat. The menu is foundationally French with subtle Alsatian and Italian nuances. But don't anticipate diaphanously miniscule apportionments that succeed in teasing your palate while leaving your appetite in the lurch. Under the auspices of executive chef Charles J. Meyer III and sous chefs Nicholas McCann & Jeffrey Marshall, the cuisine exhibits an exquisitely crafted lusty rusticity that is as physically satisfying as it is aesthetically agreeable.
Tantalizingly archetypical of the kitchen's style is the mushroom dusted veal ($33.00)... No dainty, dandified medallions here. A tender filet is cut into hearty, fork-tender strips that explode with flavor and are consummated with an exhilarating balsamic chasseur sauce. The caper and mustard encrusted salmon ($29.00) is of a kindred culinary spirit. Accompanied by a ragout of vegetables and fingerling potatoes, a fennel-tomato nage adds a most appropriate finishing touch.
Spaetzle and braised red cabbage are indicative of Fromagerie's Alsatian/Germanic tendencies. The former, jazzed up with lemon pepper, adds a vivacious dimension to the pan-roasted halibut ($31.00), while the latter marries extremely well with the pork tenderloin ($27.00) and is chaperoned by a wonderfully exhilarating hard cider and marjoram sauce. The oven-roasted Colorado rack of lamb, in whatever gastronomic guise it may appear, is always a gourmand's delight. Most recently, it arrived embellished with a breathtaking pinot noir rosemary jus ($39.50).
All entrées, whether meat, fish, or fowl, are of similar temperament. They are robust yet refined... The attending sauces and accoutrements, despite their invigorating and energetic presence, still manage to gently caress rather than smother the objects of their affection.
And preludes and postludes are just as sumptuously sophisticated: an island of roasted sliced beets interspersed with goat cheese surrounded by a sea of vinaigrette and ring of chive oil ($8.95); sautéed sweetbreads ingeniously paired with a lemon-thyme & pine nut pound cake and sherry vinegar sauce ($10.50); grilled duck sausage luxuriating on a bed of French lentil salad imbued with wild mushroom reduction ($8.50); warm Alsatian apple tart, the establishment's signature dessert, teamed with a luscious dollop of homemade cinnamon ice cream ($8.50); coconut cream Napoleon adorned with fresh mango and roasted pineapple ($8.50). Both fore and aft, all is precisely as it should be.
No restaurant, regardless of how well-respected, is immune to criticism. And the higher one ascends in the culinary and monetary pecking order, the more pronounced -- and picayune -- the denunciations are likely to become. When one is spending a small fortune for the privilege of wolfing down a daringly diverse assortment of sybaritic sustenance, praise may turn to pique at the drop of a fork.
There is no question that dining at Fromagerie is an expensive proposition. When rack of lamb is just a hairbreadth shy of the forty bucks and a majority of other entrées hover in the vicinity of the thirty-dollar mark, you've quite obviously moved in the high rent district... but I guarantee that you will not feel short-changed in the slightest. As noted above, the quality of the cuisine is irreproachable, the apportionments generous to a fault, and soup and salad are included with your entrée... And these complimentary items are not mere throwaways by any stretch of the imagination. The soup may well be a velvety cream of cauliflower or, perhaps, a heady corn and wild rice chowder, the greenery a diminutive portion of freshly tossed mesclun enhanced with a bracing dill vinaigrette.
Food-wise, Fromagerie gives patrons an excellent bang for their buck. The wine list, on the other hand, is an infinitely more legitimate gripe. The catalog of vintages is extraordinary... as are the tariffs. And yet, there are still some bargains to be had, and the excellent wines available by the glass offer a first-rate alternative oenological stratagem.
If you're planning a special evening à deux, restaurant Fomagerie remains one of New Jersey's premier dining destinations. Go for the cozy nook adjacent to the first floor dining area, or do your best to snare table 18 in the bar area and hope no one lights up. A truly enchanting evening awaits.
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Jackets preferred at dinner
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: No