Chef Jean Paul Pauillac, would not entrust his vintage (and very weighty) cast iron crepe maker to the airline baggage handlers when he made the flight from France many years ago, so he strapped himself and the machine into the same seat and took off for a new life in the U.S.
After completing his training (and a stint at the legendary Maxim's) in Paris, Pauillac landed a job at NYC’s famed La Grenouille where he plied his trade turning out “haute cuisine” on Manhattan’s upper east side. A desire for the simpler life, reminiscent of his childhood on the family farm in Limoges drew him to Connecticut where he settled with his wife and sons in Norwalk.
Located near Veteran's Park and the Norwalk Harbor (hence the — sort of — ocean view), the serves breakfast and lunch to area workers and nearby rowers, by day. But three nights a week, it transforms (so to speak — there are still the white plastic chairs, fake flowers and a deli-style fridge full of sodas) into a dining experience with linen napkins and tablecloths.
Only recently opened for dinner and the periodic Sunday “farm table supper,” Oceanview Café serves some of the best French food in the area. If you're lucky enough to get a seat, you'll enjoy Pauillac's outstanding classical French specialties like Coq au Vin, Boef Bourguignon and Steak au Poivre.
On this particular Friday night, the place was hopping with regulars. Beth travels all the way from Ossining, John finds it "a hidden treasure", and we can't blame them: where else can you get an out-of-this world coq au vin for $13.50?
Our meal began with two soups, the first a light, flavorful garbanzo bean and vegetable creation ($3.95)with a hint of smoky bacon, and the second a creamy clam chowder ($4.90) well-stocked with celery and herbs. The soup was delicious but could have used a few more clams. Next came escargot ($6), the classic French appetizer, sitting in a buttery garlic sauce begging to be devoured and sopped up with bread.
Unable to resist, we ordered most of the available entrees including fish dishes favoring salmon, sole or the “catch of the day” all delicately prepared with a variety of sauces found in classical French cuisine. The Steak au Poivre ($17) with a perfectly seared crust and creamy cognac-infused sauce was surprisingly light, succulent and cooked perfectly to order, rare as requested. Another staple, Duck a L’Orange ($18) was a masterpiece of crispy duck and a delicate sauce layered with caramelized orange slices. The Coq au Vin (yes, $13.50) was fall-off-the-bone delicious in a sauce of red wine and mushrooms. (Pauillac's country roots serve him well, he forages for mushrooms locally, and recently found a 50-pound cache of chanterelles in Darien.)
We ate well and we ate a lot, and after a pilgrimage to the kitchen to see the legendary crepe machine, we ordered dessert. The lemon sugar crepes had just the right balance of tart and sweet and came with freshly made watermelon sorbet — both deliciously subtle and the perfect palate cleanser.
The Café is a BYOB affair, but if you forget yours, there's a liquor store two doors down where you can get a decent bottle of wine.
Do try the Oceanview Café. Great food, a terrific host and more than fair pricing guarantees that “bon temps” will be had by all.
The Oceanview Café
201 Liberty Square Norwalk, CT 06855
Hours: Please call for hours and reservations
Attire: Very Casual
Prices: Moderate (A Great Value)
Wine List: BYOB