Cargot Brasserie a modern French Bistro, opened its doors last December on the west end of the Princeton University Campus in the new arts and transit neighborhood near the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey. With the opening of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the area was in dire need of eateries as theatergoers would have to travel back into the center of town for dinner. That is only one of the reasons that Cargot has become popular with the commuters, locals and the day trippers to the up and coming area.
The French-inspired menu changes with the seasons and the organic produce (harvested from restaurant founder Jim Nawn’s Great Road Farm just a few miles away) is coaxing patrons to that side of town. The concept encompasses all-day dining with take-out coffee and pastries for early morning commuters to a full breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu. The dining experience begins in a beautifully designed restaurant that is light, bright and oh so very French.
Location: Cargot Brasserie – located at 98 University Place, Princeton, New Jersey.
Menu: At Cargot, you can grab a croissant and a coffee as early as 7 am during the week. Later in the morning, you can choose from classics like Eggs Benedict or an organic egg omelet with ham and gruyere. Lunch courses begin with traditional French onion soup or charred spring onion and potato vichyssoise, a raw Ahi Tuna Nicoise salad or various seasonal salads and sandwiches like Croque Madame (a decadent sandwich with ham and a sunny side up egg on top). Dinner choices range from a wide array of fresh oysters or clams on the half-shell, crab-filled eggs, charcuterie & cheeseboards, roasted and confit of duck, Coq Au Vin, Steak Frites and a plat du jour depending on the day of the week.
Thoughts: The restaurant is beautiful inside and out. Counter and indoor café seating are available for breakfast or lunch, but the main dining room with its understated brasserie décor is the perfect place to dress up and dine in style. Casual alfresco meals, served under a tent just beyond the back doors, are available no matter the weather. The servers offer complimentary sparkling or flat water and frequently visit to check on refills or to ask if you need anything.
I decided to visit Cargot for lunch on a sunny, breezy day to enjoy the outdoor seating. A massive tent perfectly shaded the dining space with all the flaps pinned up so that the sunshine streamed through the openings illuminating the area. The café tables were very comfortable and rested atop tiny gravel rocks which reminded me of outdoor seating in the parks of Paris. The servers were attentive and helpful with questions about the menu.
I chose the vichyssoise which was topped with a spring herb pistou, extra virgin olive oil and dotted with truffle croutons and shitake mushrooms. The flavors of the pistou and the olive oil complemented the chilled soup, and the croutons added a crunchy yet chewy texture which gave each spoonful a satisfying bite.
My daughter wanted to try the Croque Madame but did not wish to include the ham. Our server suggested the Croque Commandant, a panini of fresh asparagus, melted gruyere cheese and herb pistou with a sunny side egg on top. A simple green salad tossed with a light French vinaigrette rounded out the plate. The asparagus was organic and picked directly from the farm. They were delicious set against the creamy gruyere and crisp toast that was dripping from the perfectly fried egg.
Being a fan of Tuna Nicoise salad, I tried Cargot’s version with raw sushi grade tuna, haricot vert, confit potato salad and an organic hard-boiled egg. The mixture, served in a broad, white porcelain bowl, topped with chopped fresh herbs burst with flavor. The colors were inviting, and the salad was crisp and lightly dressed. I found it hard to decide which bite I enjoyed better, the raw tuna and egg combination or the crunchy green haricot vert and chunky potato salad forkful. It was all so tasty.
After the meal, I wished I had room for the chocolate soufflé or profiteroles with salted caramel ice cream and mocha crema, but sadly, I did not. I will have to return and make sure to try them on my next visit.
Price: Grab and go breakfasts include croissants, muffins, scones and pastries for $4. Breakfast dishes range from $11- 14 with ala carte sides from $6 -$8. Lunch appetizers are $11-$12 and entrees $12-$21. For dinner, shellfish priced by the piece at $1.50-$3. You can get an entire tower for $75. Appetizers range from $11-$22 and entrees $26 – $38 with sides from $6-$9. Desserts like the cheeseboard are $15, but other choices are $8-$12.
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