Corrections or additions?
Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 24, 2000. All rights reserved.
Dining Destination: Les Copains
It’s Sunday, and you have out-of-town visitors who
need to catch an early train, but you want to give them a nice sendoff
with brunch in downtown Princeton. Your choices are limited. At PJ’s
or Small World Coffee it’s a stand-in-line or standing-room only situation
and lots of commotion along the way. Teresa’s — always a good
bet for accommodating varied palettes — doesn’t open until noon;
Ichiban opens at 2:30 p.m.; and Lahiere’s is closed all day Sunday.
So to sit down before noon, until now, you have had only four choices:
the $14.95 deli buffet at the Nassau Inn’s Tap Room (with a la carte
menu also available), the more exotic tastes found at Mediterra on
Hulfish Street and at Twist Rojo on Chambers Street, or Alchemist
& Barrister on Witherspoon Street.
An old-but-new restaurant, Les Copains, now opens for Sunday brunch.
In previous incarnations as the Grotto and Quilty’s, it had had a
liquor license. Then it was bought out and transformed into a BYOB
place, Harriet’s, by Steve Willis. Willis is the investment banker
who launched a second upscale restaurant and bar, Zanzibar, at the
same time (U.S. 1, June 3, 1998). Willis had scoffed at the generally
held notion that the restaurant business is risky. "That’s because
the people who ran them didn’t have a financial background, but had
a food background," insisted Willis at the time. "From a financial
standpoint the return on assets that can be achieved with efficient
operation is comparable to other enterprises."
In spite of this ballyhoo, both eateries closed precipitously earlier
this spring. Zanzibar, located at the east end of Nassau Street across
from the Orchid Pavilion, has not reopened. But the new owners of
18 Witherspoon Street — John Risley and Michael Lauren — did
not skip a beat. They have yet to change the decor — now a narrow
dining room lined with mirrors that has the aura of a luxury steamship
or railroad car — but Les Copains’ menu is going to be new, very
French, and — for brunch, anyway, affordable.
Risley runs the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge and a family-style
restaurant in Bridgewater, the Grin and Gator. Lauren comes from a
business background. He studied oceanography and biology at Queens
College but went directly into consulting and in 1991 founded an information
technology firm, Dynax Solutions. He and Risley have been buddies
for eight years, so they named the restaurant after the French word
for buddies. They hit the ground running and started operating with
the menu and decor of Harriet’s.
Executive chef Chris Stevens, formerly at Casabona on
Route 206, plans to offer a menu that reflects classic French cuisine
— he studied with Chef Jeanluz Suriche in Aspen, Colorado. It
will feature elegant food with fewer ingredients and tasty but not
so heavy sauces, all with a French flair, "a little more health
conscious, to suit the community," says Lauren. In fact, he promises
to cook to order, including salt-free and butter-free requests. The
menu will include escargots, rack of lamb, steak au poivre, a unique
lobster club sandwich, lobster claw served with wild mushroom risotto
and pate brise, a burger with melted brie, and, of course, pommes
frites. The foie gras offering will be new every week.
For dessert, Lauren promises "every souffle that you can possibly
imagine — chocolate, Grand Marnier — and creme brulees. Plus
a vanilla bean topped cheesecake with a cinnamon chocolate graham
bottom, made here and topped with a different fruit every week."
When we went for dinner the menu was part Harriet’s, part Les Copains.
One sumptuous dinner appetizer — Lobster Tail and Claw served
with a warm salad of truffle, potato, and asparagus with teardrop
tomato vinaigrette ($13) — could have made a meal with the addition
of just soup and dessert. Both the fish entrees we enjoyed were cooked
superbly. Coriander Dusted Tuna with black rice, butternut squash,
and baby carrot nage ($24) is going to be on the new menu. Also good
was Potato Wrapped Salmon with roasted root vegetable, Swiss chard,
and whole grain mustard mornay sauce ($22).
Yummy at $12 for Sunday brunch were eggs Benedict or omelettes. But
the piece de resistance was layered salmon on brioche toast
with goat cheese, a melt-in-your mouth delicacy for $13.
Perhaps because the linen-topped tables are spaced nicely along the
walls, this seems like a good place for an intimate dinner for two.
The servers were friendly and attentive, and each occasion seemed
special. For both brunch and dinner, we walked in without reservations
at an uncrowded time of day, but reserve early in the week for Saturday
night. For now at least, bring your own wine, or take advantage of
the liquor store located right across the street.
— Barbara Fox
seven days: Lunch, noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner
5:30 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and 5:30 to 10 Friday and Saturday; Sunday
brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations; BYOB for now.
or to see the comments of others — go to www.princetoninfo.com.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.