Just our luck that a couple weeks after our great Bastille Day dinner, Le Chardonnay unfortunately closed it’s doors. The good news is that Chef Sami Fgaier is planning to be back with a new restaurant venture in Spring, 2010. Let’s hope the fabulous moules make the move as well.
In early July, when Bastille Day (July 14th) was still a couple weeks away, we decided to call around to the different Francophone restaurants (Le Chardonnay, L’Etoile, Sardine, etc.) to find out what special menus they had planned for celebrating France’s national holiday.
Our call to Le Chardonnay was the most intriguing. While they hadn’t finalized the menu, they promised they get back to us when Chef Sami Fgaier had decided what to serve. And sure enough, a couple of days later, they called back with a list of French favorites that seemed to go on and on. We made a reservation for three, thinking that our 6 year old daughter would at the very least be able to enjoy their famous frites.
We had often talked about visiting Le Chardonnay, especially since the whole family is very big on mussels, and one thing the restaurant is known for is their all you can eat Moules et Frites on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Chef Sami’s menu is generally French, with subtle Mediterranean/North African accents that reflect his Tunisian background. A good example was the carrot based turchi that was served with a basket of bread: this addicting spread was an interesting blend of sweet and spice, with the flavor of carrots being balanced with cumin overtones.
He is also one of those chefs who comes out of the kitchen to check on arriving guests, greeting some of that night’s patrons in French. Note: hearing French spoken by both the chef and patrons at a French restaurant in the US is always a good reflection on the overall experience.
For appetizers we shared the Escargot with red wine and prosciutto and the Roasted Veal Sweetbreads, spicy with chorizo and paprika. Both were very good, but the Sweetbreads were the hit: so few restaurants even attempt this treat, that it is great to see it on a menu, let alone being done imaginatively well.
Although Chef Sami brought her a taste of the braised rabbit pasta out of concern for a kids noodle centric palate, our daughter ordered the Bastille Day version of Le Chardonnay’s Mussels. Versus the standard garlic, shallot, and white wine sauce, these “clams” as our daughter calls them, came with a more cream based sauce. She gobbled them up all the same, along with plenty of the delicious frites.
Both of our entrees were hits: the halibut came on a bed carmelized root vegetables and duck breast with orange sauce over mushroom risotto had a citrusy zing to it.
We also had an interesting experience with our server. He was clearly brand new, since any basic question about the menu required a visit to the kitchen or host stand for an answer. But he handled his inexperience well. He was up front about being new, and enthusiastically tracked down the anwers to all our questions. What could have been an off note on the night, actually turned out well. We’ll take someone with an energetic helpfulness over a bored and cynical pro any day of the week.
Le Chardonnay is on a busy street (Johnson) and we have often zipped past, wondering about the restaurant within. After our great Bastille Day experience, however, we will be sure to slow down and stop more often.
Here is what some other local foodies have to say about Le Chardonnay:
320 West Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53703