Faux marble walls, stained-glass light fixtures and the moniker Le Chardonnay might steer your thinking toward French cuisine, but don’t be fooled. This intimate bistro’s backdrop could serve for any type of cooking with a simplistic yet contemporary design.
When first-time restaurant owner, Sami Fgaier told me that Le Chardonnay is categorized as a Tunisian restaurant that focuses on French and Mediterranean cuisine, he caught my attention and sparked my curiosity. I have never tasted North African food, but I was not afraid to try. In fact, the menu had Italian dishes and a wide array of seafood choices that were to my liking.
On the back wall of the restaurant hangs a $15,000 mosaic imported from Tunisia, made of natural colored stones that represent the goddess of wine, Dionysus. Tables seem close together because of the small dining area, which could pose problems on a very busy weekend evening, but I had few complaints about my experience Friday night.
I started with an appetizer, Fromage de Chevre ($7), which consisted of three thick slices of goat cheese rolled in mixed nuts. The dish was saturated in a zesty mandarin sauce that tasted very citric. Adorned with mandarin orange slices for color and presentation, the starter tasted more like cream cheese because it was so fresh, and my group used it as a spread on the toasted French bread slices.
The Sweet Potato Soup that I substituted for my house salad was tasty, but not necessarily worth an additional two dollars. The soup was thick, slightly sweet, and very filling. It was delicious but seemed like a small portion since it arrived in an oversized porcelain bowl.
There was a considerable lull between the arrival of our appetizer, salads and entrees, but we appreciated the lag time and enjoyed the extra time to sip our wine and enjoy conversation.
My taste-testing team was impressed by the Bucatini Au Fruit De Mer ($14), a variety of seafood for a very good price. The thick bucatini noodles tasted amazingly fresh and were served with tomato sauce, black tiger shrimp, jumbo sea scallops, Norwegian salmon, and Prince Edward Island black mussels. It is hard to find a restaurant around town that will give a greater portion of seafood than pasta, but Le Chardonnay conquers that concern with ease. The flavor was not masked by the sauce and my group concurred that this was the best dish for its price.
The Mediterranean Torte puff pastry ($11) was crisp and flaky on the outside, and warm, doughy, and tender on the inside. Stuffed with portabella mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, and squash, the vegetarian meal was accompanied by a light tomato cream sauce and red bell peppers for a zesty flavor.
One of the few chicken dishes on the menu is the Fricassee de Poulet ($14). Chicken on the bone topped with a white wine cream sauce, pearl onions, and button mushrooms was a nice alternative to the seafood dishes. The garlic mashed potatoes were not overly seasoned and tasted fresh and homemade.
Many of the dishes on the menu seemed very similar. Mussels, shrimp and scallops were a common theme with a variation of sauces. This is understandable, since seafood is flown in from various parts of the world two times a week, but I would suggest a greater variation. Also on the menu are salad selections including a Mediterranean Salad ($8), which appeared to be the traditional Greek Salad, and the Le Chardonnay Salad ($12).
This is a restaurant to take your parents when they visit town, or the place to celebrate an anniversary with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Prices are reasonable but steep for a college student’s wallet. For example, we finished our meal with the Tiramisu ($7), which was overpriced for such a small portion of dessert.
A cozy bar lies tucked away in the corner of the restaurant. If you want to indulge in a few drinks on Thursday night, $5 martini night, you would have to fight over a bar chair. Lit with votive candles and showcasing fine spirits, the polished wood beams and counter create a sophisticated feel.
My meal was enjoyable and I found the wait staff to be more than accommodating. Sami Fgaier and co-owner and head chef Hedy Abba are still finalizing the menu, and I would be interested in going back in a few weeks to see what changes they have made. Some plainer dishes and lower prices might attract a greater student clientele. I think Le Chardonnay has the potential to bring better things. Until next week, happy dining!