|Buckwood Bistro||Montclair, NJ|
Don't be misled by the use of the word "bistro" or the backwoods location of this amazing eatery. (It’s in Delaware, New Jersey – ever heard of it?). The owner, the delightfully amiable Chef Jean-Louis Todeschini, is the original executive chef of NYC's Le Cirque, who established this bucolic location minutes west of the Delaware Water Gap because he wanted to be near his 140-acre farm and who, with his delightful partner, Sharon Peck, manage Buckwood bistro. When we stopped in whilst heading back to our homes in Montclair we were unaware this was a French restaurant as it much resembles the taverns that line Route 46 and are mostly patronized by locals in these parts (it had been enthusiastically recommended by some of the staff at the nearby Lakota Wolf Sanctuary). No sooner were we seated and had taken a glance at the menu than we knew we were in for a surprise – this place was not at all what we were expecting! It seemed as if we had been magickally transported to Alsace, seated at a fine dining venue somewhere in the forest surrounding Saint Hippolyte. The service was warmly attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, but not at all overbearing. Most of the other patrons were outside dining al fresco on the inviting terrace, but we chose to remain in the well-appointed and traditionally furnished dining room that evoked a cheery gemutlichkeit. Everything up to this point was perfect, apart from a mechanical problem with the air conditioning. We were starving. My companion zeroed in on the steak au poivre, and I spotted a grilled polenta in a wild mushroom and Gorgonzola ragout that called out to me, but what I really fixated on instantly were the flammekuche – pizza sized pastries of the flakiest crust imaginable overlaid with savories. Not since my sainted dad was alive did I taste such a thing, so I ordered up one of these topped with forest mushrooms, farmer’s cheese and sautéed onions. Tasting it, I knew not whether I was still on earth or had somehow been transported to heaven: absolute perfection. Our salads were crisp, flavorful and garden fresh. My companion’s steak and my grilled polenta were similarly without blemish. Portions were beyond ‘generous’ and we were each forced to bring some of our meals home with us via “doggie bag” – something I almost never, ever do - as a point of religious observance – having been taught as a youngster to always leave a ‘clean plate.’ Glances at our fellow diners’ orders confirmed that these more-than-generous portions were a constant. At meal’s end our kind host gifted us with some of the most scrumptious bread pudding, served in a Jack Daniels whiskey sauce that ended our meal on exactly the right note. When our bill came I was shocked to discover it totaled under $50.00! There is perfectly good food that is made by competent cooks that is quite enjoyable, and then there is food prepared by individuals who love food and who care deeply about its preparation and service: for them, food is an art form – not mere sustenance, but sacrament. The food at Buckwood Bistro is demonstrably the latter - spiritually and gastronomically much closer to Strasbourg than Stroudsburg. Forget about the geography. A word to the wise: find some reason to get on Route 46 West and drive almost to the Delaware Water Gap. This, for me, is one of the finest restaurants in the state of New Jersey. Chef Todeschini, many thanks for providing your patrons with a superlative dining experience – I hope to have many, many more.