By Bob Sacks |
Sometimes you have to go the extra mile for a new dining experience. To find the recently opened Union Jacques, a French-inspired restaurant in Colts Neck, just look for The Colts Towne Plaza, across from Delicious Orchards on Route 34, then drive around in the back of this little “village” of shops, until you come across the petite red house with a modest sign for the restaurant. The small, cozy room inside was the site of the former Christopher’s Cafe, and now houses this new venture.
For starters, we chose an excellent rendition of the classic Moules Marinieres et Frites ($18). The presentation was visually wow-wow, as the dish arrived in a massive aluminum seashell, which contained a glass bowl of large, grit-free mussels, done in white wine, garlic, and leeks, and topped with a copious amount of french fries. Delicious! The dish would have been perfection if the fries had come on the side, so as to preserve their crispness beyond the first two minutes.
A special of the evening, Baked Clams ($12), was also very tasty. Six wild-harvested Top Neck Clams, topped with Parmesan cheese, a dusting of breadcrumbs, and a bit of bacon, were hot, fresh and tender. These disappeared from the serving plate rather quickly.
Another special, Steak Tartare Surf & Turf ($16) was a playful presentation of house Applewood-smoked, shredded filet of beef, avocado, kiwi and lump crabmeat, garnished with rainbow microgreens, and served in a quaint glass jam jar.
Spinach and Brussel Sprout Fondue ($14) blended those fresh green vegetables with both Gorgonzola and Gruyere cheeses, and a dollop of cream; and was served with pieces of toasted bread for dipping.
One of my guests was quite taken with the Broccoli Soup ($10); a simple puree of broccoli and cream, with Parmesan crisps as garnish, it was deeply satisfying. The texture offered pleasing weight without being overly heavy.
A generous piece of pan seared Cod Meuniere ($28), plated with roasted purple potatoes and shaved Brussel sprouts in a brown butter sauce, was colorful and fresh, with a lovely contrast between the silky cod and the crunch of the Brussel sprouts.
The presentation of Coq Au Vin ($27) was somewhat different than other versions with which we were familiar. The large portion of properly cooked, wine-marinated breast and thigh, was coated with a brownish, red wine sauce which was thicker than other renditions we have had here and in France, but was nevertheless flavorful. The plate was shared with crunchy carrots and string beans, and a Spring Wheatberry “Risotto,” which would have benefitted from a minute or two more cook time.
Contender for entrée of the night was a Bone-in Organic Pork Chop ($35) with Dijon mustard and capers in an apple brandy cream sauce. The thick, juicy chop was plated with yummy Sarladaises Potatoes (thinly sliced, cooked in duck fat and garlic), and green beans. Worthy of a return visit.
Union Jacques is a BYO. The red wine glasses were passable, but on the small side. A fine dining destination, either with a wine list or BYO, should offer more generous-sized glasses. The pleasant and accommodating husband of one of the chefs, who was overseeing the front of the house, was kind enough to search for, and dig up, two carafes for decanting, but we would hope the restaurant lays in a better supply of them going forward.
For whites, we opened a 2006 Fevre Chablis Les Clos. Surprisingly, this citrusy, mineral driven, limestone-inflected wine, needed 30 minutes of air before it started to show best. Still young! More ready was a 2011 Morlet Ma Princesse Chardonnay from California; rich, but not a fruit bomb, and not overly oaked, it showed well. The red of the night was a toss-up between the 2000 D. Laurent Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, an elegant Premier Cru Burgundy, with a fuller size than expected, and lots of sweet fruit, and a remarkable 2001 Dominus, the classic California Cabernet label from Christian Moueix, which when tasted in the blind, often fools even experienced tasters into calling it Bordeaux. Memorable.
Of the house-made desserts on the menu (all $10), my favorite was the Mixed Berry Crumble, with a mélange of fresh blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries, with whipped cream and pastry crumble, but some of my guests preferred the French Apple Cake; rich and buttery, with moist, fresh apples.
In reality, finding the shopping center which is home to Union Jacques is not all that difficult; it’s just the modest signage and tucked-in, out-of-the way location once inside that center which makes it a bit of a challenge. That said, it is worth the trip to experience this French farmhouse-style of cuisine, served up in a warm, low-keyed setting.
317 State Route 34 North, #211
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
This article was first published in the April 26-May 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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