111/2 Church Street
Lambertville, New Jersey

Food: French
Ambience: Casual
Service: Pleasant but harried
Wine List: Limited but inexpensive
Price Value: Good

Review by NJ Monthly

I have reviewed several restaurants at this location, which I prefer in summer when the outdoor courtyard is in use. That is when Church Street Bistro really feels French; you could be dining in any small restaurant in the French countryside. During the winter, seating is less atmospheric because the cozy interior of the restaurant is decorated in a style that is more American country than French; the walls have wainscoting on the lower half, and a few brass pots and pans hang from beams. But there is some pretty good jazz on the sound system.

Patrick Given, the chef/owner, is absent during our first visit, but his sous-chef, David Scott, does a more than capable job. Often when the chef is absent, everything falls apart, so either Mr. Given should be congratulated on training his sous-chef well, or Mr. Scott is just naturally talented. I suspect it's a little of both.

The small menu is accompanied by an equally small wine list that is fairly broad in scope and very reasonably priced. Specials are recited without prices, which turn out to be in line with prices on the menu.

One special is particularly good: rolls of smoked salmon filled with endive and crèfraîand served with onion confit and caperberries. It's worth ordering whenever it's available, as is the tasty chicken-liver mousse topped with amber-colored aspic and accompanied by a mound of radish salad. Soup is usually a good test of a chef, and the thick and hearty carrot, parsnip, and red-pepper soup passes with flying colors. Grilled polenta atop a fricassee of mushrooms surrounded by a red-pepper essence is a wintry comfort dish, as is the puff pastry filled with snails in a parsley-and-walnut pesto, although I don't care for the combination and the overpowering flavor of basil. If you order the smoked red trout, be prepared for a mere garnish of fish on top of a thick disk of apple-celeriac réand lentil salad. But I highly recommend the smoked duck prosciutto with mangos and jicama in a Thai chili-cilantro vinaigrette, and the huge mound of black mussels in an herb, shallot, and tomato-infused broth. Both are delicious.

Cassoulet was quite fashionable for awhile, even on menus that weren't French, but was frequently ill-prepared. The one served here is luscious and memorable, with tender white beans, tomatoes, wild-boar sausage, slices of garlic sausage, and duck confit. Grilled salmon served with mashed potatoes mixed with buttered Savoy cabbage is another standout.

I usually love grilled hanger steak, but this version, substituted for filet mignon and topped with blue cheese, a green-peppercorn sauce, and parsnip chips, disappoints me with its disparate flavors. Braised lamb shank with a zucchini-and-barley risotto is tender and delicious, though I would prefer the bone trimmed. An osso buco special is tasty but could be more tender. A special of grilled shrimp and scallops wrapped in bacon, however, is overcooked and the seafood rubbery.

A pear poached in red wine served with vanilla ice cream and Belgian-chocolate sauce is the best dessert here. A ginger crèbrûlacks flavor, and the topping is not crisp as the dish demands. The tiramisù is fine, but I'd avoid the solid-textured chocolate terrine and the leaden blueberry bread pudding. --V. S.

111/2 Church Street, Lambertville (609-397-3653). Brunch: Sunday, noon to 3 pm. Lunch: Friday through Saturday, noon to 3 pm. Dinner: Wednesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 pm; Sunday through Monday, 5 to 9 pm. Wheelchair access easy. All major cards. Dinner for two without wine averages $70.


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