Saturday, December 7, 2013
By NANCY HEISER
A chic, urbane atmosphere welcomes visitors to Fromviandoux, located on a side street off Main Street in downtown Camden. But it's far from a cold ambiance. Even the lounge seating draped with white faux fur says that this spot aims for a warm and relaxing feel.
Fromviandoux, in Camden, features a chic interior with a menu aimed at diners with a discriminating palate who like to taste and sample different kinds of foods and flavors.
Photos by Dan Soley
20 Washington St., Camden 230-7444; fromviandoux.com
HOURS: Dinner, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Afternoon tea, light fare and cocktails, 2 to 5:30 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: Visa, Mastercard and Discover
PRICE RANGE: Charcuterie and cheese plates, $5 and up; small plates and salads, $9 to $13; entrees (four choices on the night we dined), $16 to $22
GLUTEN-FREE: Yes. The kitchen is able to accommodate food allergies, and the entire savory menu can be served gluten-free.
BAR: An extensive cocktail and spirits list; non-alcoholic cocktails also available. A large and European-heavy wine list with more than 25 by the glass and half glasses (3 ounces) also available.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes to enter, but not for restrooms.
BOTTOM LINE: A refined atmosphere in a comfortable and stylish setting. The service is on the formal side but still warm and welcoming. The food is excellent and served with appetizing accoutrements. Much of the menu consists of small plates, cheeses and pastries. Due to a lack of many robust options, big eaters may be disappointed, but it's an excellent choice for tasting, sharing and lingering.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:
* Poor ** Fair ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
Guests linger at the bar in subdued conversation or enjoy their French-inspired dishes at white linen-covered tables. No big and boozy groups here. Instead, an understated elegance prevails. Settle in with your pork and pistachio pate and stay awhile.
The food follows the modern premise: Uncluttered, arty plates with tastes of charcuterie, cheese, and this and that. Diners who like a big entr?to sink into, who crave a three-napkin, lick-your-fingers dinner, will be downright unhappy.
Even the brioche rolls, a tad dense in texture, were golf- rather than tennis-ball sized. If you must fill up early, go for the fabulous foccaccia seasoned with chive, parsley, thyme and chervil. Almost everything is made in-house.
Because I particularly like the opportunity to sample a lot of items and prefer taste over quantity, count me among this restaurant's fans. I also love little surprises from the kitchen, and this spot is full of such amusements, ordered and otherwise.
Three of us composed dinner from six small plates. House-cured salmon with a cucumber-avocado relish and lime cr? fraiche ($13) was a refreshing cool and divine mix of textures and flavors. The potato crisps (think fancy potato chips) kept us from softly falling into a hammock of oblivion.
Grilled bread with olive, crimini mushrooms, and chevre with fennel and truffle vinaigrette was just shy of sublime ($9).
Soup service began with a rosy mix of lobster, roasted mushrooms and shallots arriving at the bottom of a broad bowl; the waiter then poured its creamy liquid from a pitcher. This assured that we got the right proportions as well as added a touch of ceremony. Much appreciated. A slight salty after-taste kept the attractive potage ($9) down to earth, but by no means subterranean.
Two pan-roasted scallops with diced potatoes in a dill dressing -- all underscored by a lemon and pepper vinaigrette -- was another well-executed dish ($9).
A leafy dish of sliced, warm duck confit, radishes and cherries in a mustard vinaigrette tossed with ample arugula brought a welcome sweet, crunchy and peppery taste of summer to the table ($10). The salad was delectably offset by the fattiness of the duck.
Several staff members served us, depending on who was available and what was ready in the kitchen. From start to finish, service was smooth, gracious and knowledgeable. Our primary waitress described the nuances among several cheeses on the menu. When I picked out a wine, she knew a little of its backstory.
At the outset, the three of us determined we would share everything, and this was effortlessly accommodated. We got all the silverware we could have wanted and then some without prompting or undue ceremony. We received just the attention we needed and nothing more.
A staff that seeks to understand each table's particular desire on any given night is a well-trained staff indeed. Fromviandoux has found the right balance.
Can excellent hospitality and a comfortably stylish atmosphere make very good food taste even better? It's a question for social scientists. But certainly, these two aspects at Fromviandoux enhanced our evening and made it thoroughly enjoyable.
Its name is the only thing that's a tad clunky at this restaurant. "From," short for fromage (cheese, in French) "vian" for viande (meat) and "doux" (dessert) are merged into one new word.
From the restaurant's many choices, we selected a tangy, oozing cremeux de Bourgogne (Burgundy) cheese for our finale. The appropriately room-temperature slice was served on a wooden board with tiny house-made bread squares (I wished for more of that delicious, dark walnut bread), a swirl of local honey and a smattering of fruit -- three grapes and one strawberry -- which is a garnish, really, and a reminder that this restaurant goes for tastes meant to enhance, not fill you up.
We chose hazelnut brittle from among the seven accompaniments. Other options sounded luscious as well -- vanilla-grape jam, onion marmalade and port cherries among them.
For a second finish, our waitress rightly steered us to the ricotta doughnuts, an elevated breakfast food with a deep golden, granulated-sugar-coated crust over a pillowy interior made glorious with sides of huckleberry compote and mascarpone cream.
Three shot glasses, each containing a swig of a ginger milkshake, gave this dessert ensemble an extra je ne sais quoi. A glimpse of a childhood memory, perhaps, at the conclusion of this refined, very grown-up dinner.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be reached at: