At Madeleines Petit Paris in Northvale

The Record, Friday, January 26, 2001
By DAVID BONOM Restaurant Reviewer

The old Chez Madeleine in Bergenfield had grown tired and inconsistent. The food and service didn't have the shine it once had when chef-owners Gaspar Caloz and wife Madeleine decided to sell the Bergenfield location eight months ago, and consolidate their restaurant and catering operation in Northvale. Along with the name change to Madeleine's Petit Paris, the change of venue has been the breath of fresh air. The magic has returned, and the restaurant comes close to four-star glory. Although the Calozes have traded in the rustic country inn look for a more brightly lit, open-airy feel, the warmth comes from Gaspar Caloz's inspired cuisine and hostess Madeleine Caloz's charm.

A perfect way to begin a meal is with the signature crepe Madeleine ($7.50), with two light-as-air potato crepes gently enveloping perfectly cooked salmon atop a pool of warm creme fraiche. The topper was a heaping spoonful of slightly briny caviar. Each flavor built on the next; the delicate potato flavor was enhanced by the rich salmon, which in turn was brought together with the caviar. Dare I say it - I swooned with each bite.

My companion paid my boasting no mind as she reveled in her generous portion of Hudson Valley foie gras de canard ($15.50), which was seared to a delicate butter-like consistency. The magic combination started with sherry vinegar and tart whole cranberries to cut the richness of the foie gras; sweet caramelized onions pulled it all together. Far from overshadowed were the warm Prince Edward Island mussels ($6.50) - a steal for the price piled high in a shiny white bowl atop a fresh sea-like broth of white wine and garlic. The kicker was the drizzle of "chefs sauce," a wonderful concoction of cream, shallots, and red and green bell peppers that just touched enough of each mussel. The dish was rightly served with a finger bowl of warm lemon water adorned with a single orchid that lent a deserved elegance.

One key element to the success and charm of the restaurant was Madeleine Caloz. Bright-eyed, with an elegance and warmth that was genuine, she greeted each diner personally. This enthusiasm carried over to the entire staff, who were also eager to please. The staff was mindful of special requests and not afraid to say when they were unsure of something and to excuse themselves at the right time to find out. Water glasses were never more than half empty and wineglasses were always topped off at an appropriate moment. New napkins were issued after a shared bowl of the mussels. It was what fine dining should be, an experience that takes you to another place, away from the realities of life.

The key for me was watching chef Caloz and his wife sing "Happy Birthday" to a customer. It was done with elegance.

A wonderful, complimentary middle course was the delicately dressed mesclun salad. It was served in classic French style with wilted cucumbers and a touch of bitter greens. The pepper-dusted venison ($27.50) entree was perfect winter fare. Three hearty medallions were served with an exceptional au poivre sauce, fresh chestnut puree, and sauteed apples over a bed of pickled red cabbage.

A cassoulet special ($25.50) was a classic preparation and filling enough for two. The traditional white bean stew was abundantly filled with chunks of butter-like lamb, saucisson a large smoke-cured sausage and duck. The whole then was topped with a crisp layer of buttered bread crumbs excellent for a brilliantly cold night.

My confit of duck ($24.50) was the only weak spot. Wonderful as it was, it just didn't match the perfection of the other dishes. A medium-rare duck breast waa fork-tender with a heady Grand Marnier sauce and sat atop a whole duck leg confit that needed just a bit more crispness and a touch of seasoning.

Desserts must not be missed, and they deserve a review of their own. The ethereal, airy souffles ($12), large enough for three and served to two, were topped with creme anglaise. The crème brulee ($6) was by far without equal in New Jersey - it was the classic textbook example. My favorite, however, was the simple apple tart. Paper-thin slices of Golden Delicious apple were fanned over a delicate crust, baked to perfection, then set amid a pool of caramel sauce. The topper is a scoop of French vanilla ice cream with a rosette of whipped cream simplicity defined.

Madeleine's Petit Paris

416 Tappan Road, Northvale - (201) 767-0063
Fare: French, continental.
Prices: Appetizers $4.50 to $15.50; entrees $20.50 to $29.95.
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC. V.
Reservations: Required on weekends.
Days closed: Monday.
Liquor, wine: Yes.
Facilities for the disabled: Yes.
Non-smoking area: Yes.
Atmosphere: French country.
Dress: Elegant, casual.
Rated by The Record: Jan. 26,2001

Restaurants are rated on the quality of their food, atmosphere, service, and value. Halves are given when a restaurant surpasses a level in food, service, or ambience. Reviewers make at least two anonymous visits to a restaurant, and The Record always pays the tab.

Poor: O Fair: * Good: ** Excellent: *** Outstanding: ****


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