Oceanview Café is your typical diner. They serve breakfast and lunch with the common bacon, eggs, home fries and toast, and burgers, you get the idea. It is not a big place, with 8-10 tables, tops. Decorations of marine life and fish nets echo the area of its location but postcards from France that peer at you through the glass on the tables offer a subtle hint to what Chef Jean Paul Pauillac is all about. French cuisine.
Every Friday and Saturday night, from 5:30-9:00 p.m.,Pauillac, who once worked at Maxim’s in France (as did Wolfgang Puck) and La Grenouille, turns his modest diner into a French culinary experience. After his friends pleaded with him to cook up some French classics, the idea caught on and the semi-secret menu began. And what’s even better than this "underground restaurant", are the prices, the ability to BYOB, and more importantly, the food.
The entire menu consists of three appetizers and 11 entrées and all are reasonably priced. Chef Pauillac makes every attempt to give his customers the best deal possible by searching for great deals on his ingredients and not overcharging the customer. Prices are subject to change depending on market value.
A few featured appetizers are the famed French dish, Escargot, and Moules Aperitif (Mussels) for $6.00 each.
A popular dish in French cuisine is Coq au Vin ($13.75), and Pauillac’s is delicious. Served with a rich, flavorful, well seasoned braising liquid with carrots, onions, and mushrooms that acts as gravy, the chicken easily comes off the bone. The Coq au Vin is accompanied by fresh green beans and creamy mashed potatoes that serve well in sopping up the sauce. Before long, you will find yourself swirling a piece of bread on your plate to get whatever remains. This action has now become acceptable in public.
Other menu specialties include Boeuf Borginon with pasta, Duck L’Orange with new potatoes, Lapain Grandmere (Rabbit), Gigot D’Agneau (Roasted leg of lamb), and seafood choices like Tilapia with lemon caper sauce, Salmon in dill sauce, and Moules Normandes Frites (Mussels and fries). Most dishes are well below $20 and the best way to describe them is the term “Rustic” and the phrase “Made with love.”
Besides the prices, the BYOB feature at Oceanview is a huge money saver. Typically with French food, you bring wine, but to each his/her own. If you are without a bottle when you arrive, stop in at Ninety9 Bottles just a few doors down.
After dinner, please stay for dessert. If you are a crêpe person, this will be a happy moment for you. For $6.00, Chef Pauillac will make you a homemade crepe on his antique crêpe maker, brought to the U.S. from France. A funny story about the maker, which Pauillac was happy to share, involved its ride over on the plane from France. He refused to let anyone touch it and would in no way hear of “checking” his prized crêpe machine. He knew what he was doing because the crêpes were perfection. They came out wonderfully thin, and the fillings were as good as I've had. A lemon-sugar crêpe consists of lemon juice, sugar, sautéed lemon slices, powdered sugar, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This dessert was the perfect combination of sweet, zesty, and creamy.
During this whole meal, Chef Pauillac and his son Jean-Paul make you feel like you are among friends and are happy to talk about the food with you. Going back here will be an easy decision. There is not a menu like this anywhere in this area, and let’s face it, secret menus are just cool.
Oceanview Cafe 201 Liberty Square, Norwalk. 203.854.0770
[Photography courtesy of Jane Beiles Photography]