Church Street has long been called "the gem" of Montclair; blossoms, boutiques, benches, and great breakfast! But one thing seemed to be missing. Restaurant enthusiasts have often lamented - albeit secretly -the absence of a world class chef on this picturesque, pedestrian friendly street. Gastronomes can now rejoice over the arrival of acclaimed chef, Patrick Pierre-Jerome.
Chef Pierre is heading up the kitchen at Albert’s Montclair, the re-imagined site of Cafe Amici. Unlike Cafe Amici, Albert’s Montclair offers a menu as diverse and inspired as Montclair itself.
As Hot From The Kettle reported earlier, Chef Pierre was the owner/chef of Yves in Montclair for five years. Yves had the distinguishing honor of garnering not one 4-star review from the Star-Ledger, but two 4-star reviews from the Ledger in a single year. A modern day Renaissance Man, Chef Pierre is speaks gently and knowledgeably about photography, history, art, culture, and of course, food! He ranks among Montclair's finest chefs and quietly allows the food to do the talking.
What kind of restaurant is Albert’s Montclair? It’s a bit difficult to define; linen napkins, al fresco dining, romantic yet family friendly atmosphere, attentive service without pretension, and classically trained, CIA grad, Chef Pierre in the kitchen. Perhaps the term “approachable fine dining” is appropriate.
I was treated to a few of Chef Pierre’s dishes available on the new Albert’s Montclair menu. Let’s begin with Chef Pierre’s rendition of the ubiquitous staple, French onion soup. Ordinarily, the requisite brown and white crock is filled to the brim with a the watery, brown broth and rehydrated onions, topped with a slice of bread, and a thick slice of melted swiss. But Chef Pierre’s French onion bears no resemblance to it’s distant pub-crawling cousin. The chef caramelizes, and reduces, the onions allowing the sugar content to concentrate. He then purees the mixture into a creamy, filling, and oh so flavorful soup, and tops it with a house made crouton with Swiss and bits of chopped truffle. A subtle sweetness exudes from blend, and the truffle...well, what’s better than that?
The crabmeat appetizer does not disappoint either. A generous portion of white crab meat, dressed with tarragon and just a dollop of mayo - all of a sudden, my tongue is in Beach Haven. The crab app is accompanied by guacamole mousse and house made chips that are as good an accompaniment as they would be on their own.
I also sampled the playful Tuna Napoleon. Chef Pierre begins by baking black and white sesame seeds between two layers of wonton wrappers. The seared tuna is then stacked in between the wonton crisps, and accompanied by a trio of sauces: hoisin plum, balsamic, and wasabi. Fun, pretty, playful, and did I mention, delicious!
Then, the snapper! My favorite of the tasting, and highly recommended. Picture on your plate, two beautifully crisp filets of red snapper with skin like cracklings. The fish is placed atop a lobster ravioli, and enhanced with a delicate lemongrass and coconut sauce, and a thin drizzle of lobster oil. Oh my!
And of course, there’s dessert! I prefer cookies to cake any day. And though pignoli cookies have long been my favorite, Chef Pierre’s crunchy Italian almond cornmeal cookies put me over the moon. The cookies are served with two dipping sauces, a house made chocolate sauce and a dulce de leche. Dip it one or the other, or as I did, both.