My pops is away on his annual fishing trip in the northern reaches of Saskatchewan. And when the pops is away, the foodies will play. My dad is a creature of habit, and so he and my mother tend to eat at the same three places (the primary requirement being that they can make a dry martini). My mother, though, loves food and it is from her that I get my enthusiasm for eating out.
Mom and I decided to go to Ridgewood on Friday night to Latour, which is located on East Ridgewood Ave, right next to the train station. Ridgewood is one of the lovelier towns in New Jersey, with a better downtown than even Montclair or Westfield (bigger than Westfield, nicer architecture and landscaping than Montclair). Latour is a French-American restaurant with a ranking of 26 in Zagat's. Granted, the NJ version of Zagat's is much more generous in its scoring than the NYC version, however, one must figure that any place with a 26 must be quite good. And the 26 puts Latour in the top 40 for New Jersey. Mom's co-workers also raved about it, so it was with a good deal of anticipation that we arrived for our 7:30 res.
The restaurant itself was completely charming - wood floors, plenty of space between tables, mellow lighting (but not so dark that you couldn't see) and generally decorated to look French provincial. Our server was attentive and able to help my mother, the master of "Which do you recommend?"
But missteps occurred quickly. The server forgot to tell us that she had already sold the last brie appetizer, and so I had to compensate by ordering French onion soup. Mom started with the foie gras, which was decent, although I expected better considering that this is a French restaurant. The foie gras at the Glenwood in Sloatsburg, NY, which is not a French restaurant, was much better. The main problem with it, I would say, was that it was rather thin, and the sauce was slightly overpowering - it was so strong that one could not enjoy the white truffle oil that accompanies it. The French onion soup was also disappointing - it was nicely sweet, but there was no saltiness to counteract the sweetness of the onions, and the bread was too charred, further compromising the taste. Frankly, I ought to get a better French onion soup at Latour than I do at Collins, but that wasn't the case.
Next course - salads. I had a spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, goat cheese and yellow raisins. Mom had the frisee salad. The spinach was rather soggy, not crisp and fresh as it ought to have been. There was actually too much goat cheese (and it was not as pungent as it normally is) and dressing, which combined to positively drown the spinach. I didn't try the frisee, as I don't care for it under normal circumstances, but Mom reported that it was also rather soggy, which is really a sin for frisee.
For our main course, I ordered the Beef Wellington Napoleon and Mom ordered the duckling in orange sauce. I am a devotee of rare meat and I never ever send food back unless it's inedible. This beef "Wellington" was completely inedible, it was so undercooked. When one cuts into a rare piece of filet, it ought not fall apart, and while it ought to be red in the center, and bright pink near the edges, it should not look like it was pulled out of the packaged and put right on your plate. The steak literally looked like it had been grilled for thirty seconds on each side. It fell apart while I was cutting into it and was ice cold in the center (rare steak ought to be cool in the center, but that was not the case here). I had to send the steak back to be cooked up, which I hate to do. Sure enough, when it returned, the steak was medium. Very, very disappointing. The Madeira reduction that accompanied it was nice, but Beef Wellington ought to be cooked in a philo dough puff pastry - this Beef Wellington sat on a biscuit with a little biscuit hat on top. Very odd. The Napoleon portion of it was a foie gras pate, which was ruined for me with the entire doneness debacle. The accompanying mashed potatoes were bland and dry, and tasted like they had come from a mix.
Mom's duckling, on the other hand, was fantastic. The l'orange sauce was mellow and complex, the duckling as cooked medium rare, as specified, and was tender and juicy. The accompanying risotto was absolutely abysmal - it was dry and rolled into a ball.
For dessert, we had our favorite - creme brulee. The brulee was too thick and charred on top - it took several whacks with the spoon to get through the top. And the burned sugar was so thick that it overwhelmed the mild custard (which was middling, but Mom thought it was a little too runny).
So, in summation, while the ambiance, service, and company were all lovely, I was exceedingly disappointed with the food. I wouldn't even give this place a 20, let alone a 26. Later, while I fetched the car, my mom waited outside the restaurant. The owner/chef approached her (he was smoking a cig) and asked about the meal. My mom, sweetheart that she is, assured him it was delightful. "Oh good! You know, we really cook from the heart." If I had been drinking something when my mom recounted this, I would have spit it out. My mom said, "And I thought when he said that, 'Well, maybe if you cooked a little more with your head, the food would be better.'" Nice one, Ma.