Tucked away in a little corner of Summit within steps of the train station sits Souffle, a restaurant whose façade is so modest you'd easily pass it by without notice. That would be unfortunate, because it is worth seeking out--especially for its namesake dessert: the best soufflé in the state.
Despite the froufrou menu format--French translated into English--and the heady prices--appetizers up to $12; entrée up to $28--the long dining room's pretty collection of oil paintings is oddly offset by an ugly drop ceiling. The abundance of recessed lights are often cranked up too brightly for romantic dining, especially on weeknights when the restaurant is surprisingly empty and extremely, even uncomfortably, quiet. On weekends, however, the room is full and the conversation thankfully convivial. Call for reservations.
Start off with one of the delicious preludes, or appetizers, which, in true French fashion, are small portions with fanciful presentations, the emphasis placed on depth of flavor rather than quantity of ingredients. This philosophy may put off some Americans who embrace the more-is-better mentality, but the size and quality of the portions obviously satisfies this crowd. The crispy duck confit with glazed beets and sweet-potato chips is wonderful, as is the creamy risotto with wild mushrooms and black truffles. But sautésnails with white wine, garlic, and lemon are served in uncharacteristically brittle pastry shells. A better choice is the tender seared foie gras perched atop sweet caramelized pears filled with a parsnip purée.
The menu lists more than a dozen selections under the heading plat principal, or main course, so be prepared to agonize over which to choose. A sauté fillet of red snapper dressed in a crispy potato jacket is delicious as is the succulent rack of lamb paired with a sweet-potato purée perfumed with vanilla. While the tiny medallions of beef with a shiitake-mushroom hash and Madeira sauce are good, the pistachio-crusted ostrich mignon with raspberry demi-glace is a more exciting dish. My favorite entrée on the menu is the Canard, Canard, Canard, a trio of duck preparations: caramelized sweet-and-salty duck breast, savory duck confit salad with pears, and silky seared duck foie gras. Once again, the French prove that duck is not fatty or gamy, as is often the misconception.
For dessert, there are no ifs, ands, or buts--soufflé is a must. Because of its lengthy preparation time, the restaurant prefers that you plan ahead and request your dessert soufflé when you order your entree. The menu offers four choices: chocolate, Grand Marnier, raspberry, and banana. Each is served with an appropriate sauce that you pour into the soufflé after plunging your spoon into its quivering dome. Like a volcano, sweet vapors of egg, butter, and sugar erupt in a fabulous sigh as the soufflé begins to deflate. Of the four perfectly poufed confections, I prefer the chocolate; the banana and raspberry tie for second place; and although the Grand Marnier syrup tasted slightly strong, it didn't deter me from devouring every last bite. --A. G.
7 Union Place, Summit (908-598-0717). Lunch: Tuesday through Friday, noon to 2:30 pm. Dinner: Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm; Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; Sunday, 5 to 9 pm. Wheelchair access easy. All major credit cards. Dinner for two averages $80.