Review: Manon Lambertville, New Jersey

The ceiling of Manon resembles the ethereal Van Gogh painting, Starry Night. The glazed walls in a yellow hue, reminiscent of the sun, reflect the warmth of Fourques, the southern French town where chef Jean Michael Dumas was born.

Chef Dumas practiced his craft in kitchens around his native Provence, and eventually, brought his culinary prowess to New Jersey. After working in some notable restaurants, he opened his cozy bistro 30 years ago in Lambertville. He wanted the casual ambiance of a village restaurant and to serve authentic dishes with the vibrant flavors of southern France.

Location: Manon is located at 19 North Union Street in Lambertville, New Jersey. (website here.)

Menu: The menu is concise at Manon. Usually, there are five to six starters including two homemade soups, two salads like the warm goat cheese salad with pine nuts, and La Pate du Chef. That evening, the pate was a country style and studded with pistachios.

There are eight entrees on the menu including a fish of the day, beef, duck with a sauce of the day, and chicken. If the Bouillabaisse de Marseille is on the menu, there is no other choice if you like seafood. It is one of the most popular of all the dishes on the menu.

Thoughts: Manon is quirky, but it is a gem. It is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday and only by reservation. I tried walking in a few times, but to my dismay, they had no tables available. Credit cards are not an option because they only take cash or checks, and it is a BYOB.

First, you step inside the snug spot and your voyage to Provence begins. The tables are tight with a banquette along the sidewall to allow for maximum occupancy. There is a table in the back corner with a “Fourques” sign above the wall to remind diners of the chef’s hometown. A coveted table sits in the bay window – decorated with a lace curtain. A few more tables sit along the opposite wall. There are probably no more than ten tables in all.

Next, we were offered a warm greeting and an opportunity to take the window table, the most romantic in the house. The soundtrack of Edith Piaf set the vibe for our evening. Our server opened our wine and then let us review the menu as she attended to her tables. We decided on two starters, the vegetable white bean soup with pesto on top of a crisp crouton, and the goat cheese salad with arugula, endive, pine nuts.

Our seasoned waitress worked at Manon for years. She did a great job of managing her tables solo. When she returned for our order (along with the starters) I chose the duck L’Orange and my husband, the lamb chops. Manon offers slow dining. The food prepared to order is fresh and hot. It is not a place to grab a quick bite.

The clay vessel (handmade by Chef Dumas) held the simmering soup adorned with parmesan cheese and pesto. I stirred the toppings around the bowl and savored the flavorful stock, chock full of vegetables. The cheese and pesto offered a salty bite.

The salad was crisp, fresh, and the French vinaigrette was light and not overpowering. The goat cheese was warm and melted beautifully onto the greens. The pine nuts added an earthy flavor and the combination with the greens was satisfying.

Our dinners were perfectly cooked. The duck was tender and the L’Orange sauce was sweet and pleasantly sour. The breast was sliced and the leg portion was prepared confit. The duck was medium-rare, as ordered. The haricot vert and the signature potato au gratin were delicious alongside.

The lamb was coated with a mustard and thyme crust. It was a generous portion and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The meat was absolutely delicious and the jus around the plate was rich and savory with the same sides as the duck.

Lastly, the dessert choices sounded delicious. It was difficult to choose but we settled on the creme caramel which is similar to flan. The generous portion was served in a shallow bowl swimming in a light caramel sauce. We shared and gobbled it up even though we were full. It was smooth and creamy and perfectly sweet.

It was a fantastic evening all-around – wonderful food, a lovely, casual setting, and a romantic vibe. It is a local place for me and will be in rotation regularly.

Price Range: Appetizers are $7 -13. The Bouillabaisse is $27 while the other entrees range from $20 – 28. Homemade desserts are $8.

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