It’s much too early for the culinary jury to return a verdict on a new dining establishment after just a few weeks, or even a few months. But if two very early visits are any indication, the dining scene in the charming town of Pennington has a recent addition that’s off to a promising start.
Bonne Assiette, a handsome spot that offers one chef’s take on French-American cuisine, occupies the space off 23 West Delaware Avenue, formerly occupied by Avanti, a much loved community favorite, and most recently the home of Camillo’s, admired by many Princetonians who recall chef Camillo holding court at the Princeton Shopping Center.
Owner/chef Assi LiPonte promises to deliver an experience that will “awaken your senses.” He also promises to offer a menu that features grass-fed meat and free-range poultry, wild-caught sustainable seafood and fish, locally sourced produce, and artisanal breads, in an effort to support local and small businesses. And then there’s the name of the restaurant, Bonne Assiette, which, loosely translated, means “a well-prepared meal.”
And Chef LiPonte appears to have the bona fides to deliver on his ambitious promises. LiPonte received his early culinary training in France, and went on to assume the role of executive chef or manager at a number of notable establishments, including the highly regarded Classic Cafe at Roanoke in Texas.
Patrons may enter Bonne Assiette via a short stroll down the little alley next to the Pennington Barber Shop, or from the (free) municipal parking lot in back. Once inside your senses begin to awaken even before you have been seated.
The space has been renovated post-Camillo’s in a subdued, spare, tasteful style. Comfortable high-backed chairs, warm wood tones, and a mix of images of France and America on the walls make for a relaxing setting for what’s to come. Well-spaced tables can accommodate 34 patrons in the main dining area. A side room seating 12-plus may be reserved for private parties, while a patio at the rear seats 18, weather permitting.
Menu offerings hit all the right notes. Appetizers include moules frites, saumon tartare, charcuterie, and a selection of artisanal cheeses. Salad selections include the expected, like laitue bib — bibb lettuce, sauteed pears, Roquefort cheese, walnut dressing — and the less so, like the betteraves confit — candied roasted red and golden beets, goat cheese frites, and sweet aioli dressing.
Mains range in price from $16 for roast chicken seasoned with herbes de Provence, to $29 for petoncle au caviar — diver scallops, caviar, farro confit, orange beurre blanc. Creme brulee, mango sorbet, assorted cakes and pastries, and a good selection of hot and cold beverages complete the picture. Diners are welcome to bring their own wine.
The service on my two very early visits, while hesitant at times, was engaging, attentive, and showed potential. Flutes were offered for the sparkling wine I brought on one visit. One pet peeve of mine is servers who do not wait until every member of a party is finished with a course before clearing the table. This was not the case at Bonne Assiette, a clue that an experienced hand is training the staff. May that level of service continue, and continue to improve.
Less welcome was the lack of communication from the restaurant. An e-mail query went unanswered, and signing up for the restaurant’s e-mail newsletter weeks ago has resulted in not one single reply. Puis-je avoir votre attention, s’il vous plait?
That said, the winning combination of tasteful decor, an eclectic French-American menu, reasonable prices, and well-intentioned service can add up to a very pleasant experience at Bonne Assiette.
Bonne Assiette, 23 West Delaware Avenue, Pennington. Most major credit cards accepted. BYOB. Closed Monday. Tuesdays through Sundays, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. 609-737-7174 or www.bonneassiette.com.