by Elissa Karg
The French Gourmet is a quirky spot. The tiny building has a bright blue face; the adjoining walls are bright pink. Inside there are half a dozen pink marble tables; turquoise peacocks are painted on the walls, their fans studded with glass gems. Garlands of pink silk and elaborate arrangements of silk flowers on the ceiling verge on silliness, but they don’t quite cross the line.
Lina and Marvin Bernstein moved their bakery from Farmington Hills to Ferndale some 12 years ago and reopened as a restaurant. If you long for classic French cuisine, or if you’re anxious to try it, this is one of very few choices, and Lina Bernstein is a fine chef.
Marvin Bernstein runs the front of the house, and his goal is to create an atmosphere that is unpretentious, but formal. You don’t have to be fluent in French to eat here; most of the menu is written in English, and no one will correct your pronunciation. Patrons are addressed as “mister” and “miss.” “If someone asks to be called by their first name, we simply ignore that,” Bernstein says cheerfully.
The food stars here. “Haute cuisine” is Bernstein’s description. Everything from scratch. Nothing frozen, canned or preserved, plenty of butter and cream. Begin with the Paris market onion soup. The co-diner says it is just like the soup he ate long ago in the Paris market Les Halles. Gruyère is grated into the soup, and thin slices of toasted, buttered baguette are served alongside. You float them in the soup, and you can fish them out again before they are soggy. Wine and herbs add depth and complexity.
The French Gourmet is also the place to go if you long for sweetbreads, frog legs or escargots. We loved sweetbreads ($11) braised in white wine and served with artichoke hearts. I didn’t want to ask while I was eating, but I looked it up afterward: sweetbreads are thymus glands, those butterfly-shaped glands that encircle the trachea of a young calf. Sweetbreads have a delicate, silky texture and a buttery taste.
Brie en Croute ($9), another appetizer, was disappointing. Cheese and mushrooms are baked in puff pastry, but the finished product was soggy.
Red snapper en papillote (parchment) ($20.50) is stuffed with shrimp and wrapped in a parchment packet with champagne, herbs and sautéed vegetables. All of the flavor is sealed into the package, and the end product is sublime — moist without being oily.
Bouillabaisse ($20.50), a soup that can vary depending on the chef, is elegant here. The broth is a salmon bisque with white wine, and it features shellfish — lobster, shrimp, mussels and scallops. It is more restrained than other variations I have had, but delicious.
Duckling Monte Cristo ($20.50) is a roasted half duck, partially deboned, served with a pear liqueur and five fruits. The plate was circled with slices of kiwi and banana, and the duck was perfect — crispy and tender.
A dinner salad comes with your entrée; our greens were edged with brown both times we ate there.
As you can imagine for a bakery-turned-restaurant, desserts are special. A Grand Marnier or chocolate soufflé has to be ordered with your meal, and unfortunately we forgot. A selection of profiteroles (cream puffs) are filled with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream, and served with vanilla ice cream, which is made in-house. The co-diner reminisced about chestnut ice cream (glace de marron), and Mr. Bernstein lamented: “Oh, you should have mentioned it when you made the reservation.” That’s something we won’t forget next time.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, and for brunch on Sunday.
Although the restaurant wasn’t crowded either night we were there, Mr. Bernstein suggests reservations on the weekends. Sometimes, he confides, the restaurant is closed so the Bernsteins can enjoy a night at the opera.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.