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Oct 26, 2008 06:02 PM

Bienvenue - Red Bank

Although the restaurant has been around for quite some time both as Bienvenue and its predecessor Le Petit France, I had not been inclined to dine there. A gut feeling combined with mixed reviews never lead me to try the restaurant until last weekend. Another couple we regularly dine with advised that they were interested in trying French food and gave me the choice of this establishment or another local French restaurant that I previously did not have a good experience with. Therefore, Bienvenue was my only choice. Notwithstanding my previous inclinations, I was excited about trying this restaurant.

We had an 8:30 PM reservation and arrived to find our friends already seated. Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first (I guess you can guess were this review will go). The room while being on the small side is very cozy and nicely decorated. Faux painted walls are adorned with French posters and prints while empty wine bottles (all top labels) sit atop a shelf that surrounds the room. The room is lovely and for a few fleeting moments transports the diner to the City of Lights. Another positive for the evening were the risottos. Although the dish is somewhat incongruous with the whole French theme, the chef does note on his website that he blends some Italian influence into his cuisine. Two risottos where ordered for appetizers and both were stellar. Specifically the porcini risotto was very creamy and dark with a strong woodsy flavor while the French mushroom risotto was also creamy and perfectly cooked with a much lighter flavor accented with cheese.

Now for the negatives. The remainder of the food from the other half of the appetizers to the entrees (save the salad course) were horrid. Being a foie gras fan I tried the terrine with black truffle salt, onion chutney and toasted country bread. At $17 for the appetizer I was expecting a nice thick slice or two of the terrine. Instead, what was delivered consisted of two thin slices not more than two inches long and one inch wide. I wouldn’t have been so upset if the terrine tasted good but it did not. The other problematic appetizer was the Escargots Traditionnels. Prior to dining at the restaurant, our companions had voiced that they were craving the “traditional” escargot served in a porcelain escargot plate loaded with herbed garlic butter (for bread dipping of course). Instead what were delivered were a bunch of flavorless rubbery snails surrounding a few triangles of puff pastry. This truly was a disappointing dish. Next came the mesclun salad with warm goat cheese crouton and beet vinaigrette. While not bad, the salad dressing was a bit too acidic and lacked any of the advertised beet flavor.

The most disappointing part of the meal were the entrees. Each and every one was bad and exhibited no redeeming quality whatsoever. Take my entrée for example. When we were initially seated we were presented with two menus (both a la carte and prix fixe) along with a specials list. The specials while pricey all contained the addition of black truffles. The entrée of Magret de Canard in a honey and truffle sauce for $34 piqued my interest (along with the option of adding shaved truffles for a $10 premium). I decided to go all the way and ordered the full boat on the dish. When the dish was delivered however there were no shaved truffles to be found. I called Audrey (the co-owner and wife of the Chef) over to inquire about the missing truffles. Instead of immediately acknowledging the error, Audrey made a face and pointed to the top of the duck (to what I presume to be phantom truffle shavings) and then inexplicably whisked the plate off the table and returned it to the kitchen. Moments later without any apology or explanation the plate was unceremoniously plopped back in front of me with some shaved truffles atop the duck breast. I’m sad to report that the truffles had very little taste to them and added nothing to this abject failure of a dish. The honey in the sauce tasted off while what I presume to be truffle oil made the sauce completely unpleasant. Add to the above an improperly cooked duck breast and you have a bad dish. My other dining companions did not fair any better. My wife’s filet mignon was tough and cooked to a wrong temperature. Both our dishes came with an oily and insipid side of potatoes au gratin. The other couple had ordered the rack of lamb and the lamb shank and both commented that neither dish was enjoyable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment about the downright cold and rude service we received. Apart from the truffle incident noted above, Audrey (who was our server for the evening) never made us feel comfortable or even wanted. This fact is further borne out by the story told by our dining companions of what transpired before we arrived at the restaurant. Hoping not to upset us, later on in the evening our friends advised that when they arrived, instead of being welcomed they felt they were being interrogated as to whether they had a reservation or were a dreaded walk in. Next, our party was given a small four top in the center of the room. As we were the largest party in the restaurant, our friends inquired about being moved to a larger table in the rear. Apparently, Audrey denied the request advising that the table was reserved for another party. Moments later a party of 3 came in and was escorted to the table. Purportedly, these individuals were friends of the Chef as he came out to personally deliver their entrees. Most notable about this incident was the fact that while one of our companions who had ordered the rack of lamb had received 3 chops for her entree, the Chef’s friend had received a large rack consisting of 6 chops and made quite the scene on how so impressive his entrée seemed to appear. At this point we decided to forego the remainder of the meal and traveled up the road to Nicholas to enjoy some excellent coffee and dessert. It was evident that Bienvenue did not care for my business and I don’t ever intend on returning.

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  1. These are the same people that opened the failed French bistro in Toms River, right ? Went once and it was far less than spectacular.
    I remember the wife. You would have thought her head would have cracked if she had to smile. Boy, is she in the wrong business.

    1. I went there once when they first opened, and I had a bad meal there, too. I have to agree, the chef's wife does make you feel so unwanted. When I had more than 2 questions on the menu, she rolled her eyes and said, "I will just be back since you can't decide."

      I guess she was mad I was taking up time with her. Who knows. Our dinners were also plopped in front of us and then she vanished. We never got to see her until we were done. Horrible service. Also, I do remember the soup being cold, and I sent it back to her. She came back, after probably having it in the microwave for 10 was a scorcher! I think she did it on purpose.

      Anyway, I never went back.. Sorry to hear you spent a lot to eat garbage and be treated awful, bgut!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Angelina

        BCjr - Yes, I believe they are one in the same. B French Bistro didn't last very long in Toms River.

        Angelina - Thanks for your concern. Especially in this economy, I hate spending a considerable amount of money on disappointing food and service.

        1. re: bgut1

          Bgut - I agree 1000%! Sorry to read about your experience. I also hate spending any amount of money on simply bad food and service. I hope that when traffic drops 30% or more in many of our local restaurants, especially mid week, the owners/chef's will have a chance to improve upon what's important to us - good food & welcoming service.

      2. The original comment has been removed