We finally made it to the Epernay Bistro on Saturday night. We had previously tried to make reservations a couple of times before, but ever since the NY Times gave it a favorable review, Saturday nights have been very difficult (and it is a small place). On the night before Easter, however, getting in was not a problem.
The bottom line? We really enjoyed it. There is a nice selection of small plates and a limited number of entrees, and while this is not a place to be "dazzled" by intricate preparations and complex sauces, there is a real focus here on using quality ingredients and coaxing the best that the raw materials have to offer. Our meal went like this:
My wife had a salad to start - a nice mix with a mustardy vinegrette and a goat cheese croustade. I had a plate of delicious Noank oysters which came with both a standard cocktail sauce and a really good mignonette sauce. The salad was right on the mark and the oysters were sweet and very, very fresh tasting.
For our main courses, my wife chose another small plate - a very ample dish of mussels in white wine and garlic. Quite simply, they were fabulous - really as good as any mussel dish we've had in a long time. I had an entree from the regular menu - a pork chop milanese. This was the epitome of simple, well executed cookery. A lightly breaded, on the bone chop served over a salad (very similar to my wife's starter salad). All it needed was a squeeze of the lemon wedge that accompanied it. It was a wonderful contrast of a crunchy (not soggy!) exterior and a perfectly cooked, moist interior. The salad provided a perfect counterpoint to the main attraction...
For me, the biggest turn on was the wine list. While comparatively short, it was very, very interesting...not a chardonnay in sight! When our first choice was unavailable (they are apparently revising the list), they brought, unsolicited, a tasting of another selection, and when we did not care for it, they brought another!!! Parenthetically, most of the wines on the list are available by the glass and all of the wine prices are very, very fair. When we commented that we loved the wine program, the hostess (and I'm guessing, an owner) said that "it's all about the wine."
Given the limited menu (augmented by specials), Epernay is not a place that you could frequent on a regular basis without getting a little tired of the selection, but it is a real asset to downtown Bridgeport and both my wife and I agreed that we would be back soon.
Epernay follow up:
We returned last Saturday night and I think our visit brought to light some real "issues" that, in my judgement, may require some rethinking on management's part if they are to remain viable.
While it was a holiday weekend and the Saturday night pre-Memorial Day is traditionally a slow night for most restaurants, it was nothing short of a disastrous night at Epernay - at 8 pm just the 4 of us and one other table. This cannot be good news....
At any rate, let me state that the food was as good as our first visit. All 4 of us enjoyed everything we ordered. There are, however, a few "buts:"
1 - They have raised prices since our first visit in April. This pretty much flies in the face of common sense given the current economy (could it have been the Times' positive review???). It appears that most small plates have gone up by a couple of dollars and entrees by around $3. Frankly, putting entrees into the $25 range takes some luster off the initial appeal of the place. One of the entrees was a "chicken chopped salad" which was comprised of a decent size salad and several slices of chicken. At $18, it was hardly a bargain...
2 - While I understand that their approach to food is "market driven," and I applaud them for that philosophy, it creates a very limited selection of "large plates" - the 4 on the regular menu and 2 or 3 additions on the daily market menu. I had a dish of farfale pasta with tomatoes and smoked mozzarella (a relative bargain at $14), and while very enjoyable and perfectly prepared, I ordered it only after not really finding anything else that appealed to me.
As with our first visit, the service was excellent and our server's knowledge of the wine selection was very much appreciated. We ordered one of the evening's wine specials, a Portugese Albharino which was very enjoyable and, as with most of the wine offerings, very fairly priced.
Epernay is a place that you really WANT to succeed. It is the perfect destination for those of us that occasionally tire of the norm (Italian, Nuevo Latino, etc.) and want fresh, very well prepared food in a wonderful setting. Based on Saturday night's experience, however, it seems to me that unless management makes the necessary "tweaks" to accommodate a larger clientele, they may not succeed.....
My husband and I ate at Epernay last night. We really wanted to love the place, but felt even though we had a nice meal, that we would not return. We each had an appetizer - the country pate and the mussels, both which were very good. If we had stopped there, we might have a different impression of the restaurant. I had the lamb stew for dinner, and my husband had the steak frites. I thought the lamb stew was cooked well, and was served over what seemed like homemade pasta, but the olives in the stew really overpowered the dish. The steak was seasoned perfectly, but the portion was way too small for the $25 price tag. We did not stay for dessert, but did enjoy the wine menu as you did. I thought it was well chosen and offered a lot of variety. The atmosphere is great, and I could see returning for cocktails and small plates, but would not return for dinner. I hope to return to the area to try Cafe Roma across the street, and Two Boots sometime for takeout.
My wife and I were there a few months ago. I agree with your assessment of the place 100%. The wine list was very reasonably priced with some interesting selections. The people running the place know how to treat their customers. I hope they stick around so others can enjoy what they have to offer.