So, what do you say we take a dining-out excursion to France, via Old Milford? This will be a great trip! Why? Because we will not have to spring for a pricy airline ticket, not spend nine hours of agony in the sardine-can seat of a plane, and experience none of the hassle or headache of long-distance travel. Simply hop in the car or an Uber, and head to Chez Renee.
In France, diners-out encounter two types of restaurants, according to Laurent Degois, chef-owner of this classic French eatery on the main drag in the nineteenth-century store-front part of Milford. The types you’ll likely encounter are the bistrot and the gastronomique. “We have the bistrot (in France) where you can eat for lunch, for dinner, very casual; you don’t have to dress up. The food is very good, but (everything is) casual.
“The more ‘gastronomique’ restaurants, you have to dress up. The elegant restaurants, the technique, the service, service to perfection, explanations and knowledge of dishes and wines,” he said, all are sophisticated, choreographed if you will, and part of the experience.
A for-instance? “You can eat the beef bourguignon in a bistrot (at Chez Renee, too) and in a gastronomique restaurant, which will be the same recipe. But at the gastronomique the technique and the plating will be more elegant, or they will add some side (dish), very specific (and involved) technique,” he said, all designed to elevate the meal to a classic French dining experience to be savored, remembered, cherished.
The French hold a reverence for food perhaps unlike any other people in the world. According to Degois, eating well is the essence of a good life for the French. Also, almost without exception, every woman in France is a good cook or at least capable. “There is a devotion to good food in France. Your mother, your grandmother, they are good cooks. I had an aunt, she was not a good cook, but even she had two dishes she made well—very good dishes. That’s how French women are,” he said.
“Country French (cuisine) is more widespread, more of them naturally, but the great gastronomique restaurants, they can be in the middle of nowhere. And these places (in the middle of nowhere as well as in gay Paree and other metros) have reputations and people, Americans, and other foreigners, they want to eat there, and you have to make reservations six months in advance,” Degois said.
For my money, country French cuisine is not only good enough for me, but also the better choice. First and foremost, diners can be off duty, simply savoring the food in a relaxed ambiance; not pretentious, not stuffy. Second, fine-dine quality in a casual setting is simply more enjoyable to my way of thinking. Prices are more approachable, menus offer more choices, and kitchens are more accommodating. All plus factors in my book.
Now, what’s for dinner? Let’s start with a nice salad. One that looks especially good to me is the beet and goat cheese option (pictured). Cooked and sliced beets are set on a bed of mixed greens with slices of tomato, all sprinkled with crumbles of goat cheese topped with parsley and served with a honey vinaigrette. The goat cheese is mild with a hint of saltiness, and creamy in texture. A great choice as a meal-starter! Degois says the goat cheese is not at all strong, a concern some of his diners have raised. My experience conforms to what the chef says. Fresh goat cheese is really a taste treat—mild, tangy, tasty, and creamy, but not strong or sour.
For the entrée, Jewish diners-out may want to consider two relatively new items on the menu, both served with the same sauce. L’orange dishes typically may be associated with Asian eateries, such as orange chicken and orange beef. But the French have been using l’orange sauces for centuries, and topping chicken or duck with the sauce is common practice.
In creating the sauce, Degois starts by making a gastreque, which we learned is equal parts sugar and white vinegar mixed in a saucepan and reduced over moderate heat. When the mixture is reduced to a viscous consistency, orange juice is added and cooked to a sauce consistency. At this point the sauce is finished with butter. For Jewish diners wanting to eat kosher style, chef said he simply leaves out the butter. “Yes, we can leave out the butter, and the sauce will be a little sweeter that way, but very good,” he said. The sauce then is poured over roasted skinless chicken and served with choice of side dish.
So too for the duck. The breast is used for this dish, and it is roasted, skin on, until crispy tender. Then the breast is sliced into chunks, assembled on the plate and drizzled with the sauce. While we tried neither of these dishes, they look and sound delicious, and have garnered rave revues from Chez Renee diners.
See you at Chez Renee!
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