Recently, the movie "Julie & Julia" has debuted on silver screens across the country and has reignited in many of us our passion for exceptional cuisine. While Julie and Julia of the movie explore the unexpectedly challenging tasks of mastering French cuisine at home, my wife Fran and I had our palettes reigned for the equally satisfying joys of eating at a fine French restaurant.
But where to go?
Living 48 minutes from Midtown Manhattan and its seemingly endless inventory of elegant French restaurants, bistros and cafés definitely has its advantages; but this time we decided to aim our GPS West to see if we could discover a more "country inn" type of establishment to fill the bill.
We recognize that our Garmin Novi GPS is, in reality, a remarkable electronic Ouija board. We touch the screen, ask a question:
"Hermione, (that's what we call our GPS because she speaks with a British accent) is there a fine French country inn within a half tank of gas west of our home here in Maplewood, New Jersey?"
"Re-Calculating … at the bottom of the driveway – turn – left."
And in an instant [well, more like 45 minutes], we arrived in Flanders, New Jersey and Silver Spring Farm French Restaurant. This charming Inn is conveniently located very close to Route 80 near Budd Lake and the hamlet of Mount Olive.
Arriving an hour earlier than our 5:00 reservations, we were, none the less, blessed by the "Grande Dame" of the Inn herself, Jacqueline Ivaldi. Standing with perfect post at the reserves station, she smiled and said, "Bienvenue! Welcome to Silver Spring Farm."
"Thank you, we are an hour early and we're wondering if we could get an early seating."
Feigning, seriousness she actually walked back into an empty dining room peered around and then returned to the station. "Yes, you are in luck" she said, "We can squeeze you in."
We all had a good laugh and knew immediately that we had made the right decision to visit with Jacqueline, her husband Chef Guy Ivaldi, and their son Jean-Jacques (who trained at the renovated Hotel School of Lausanne, Switzerland) They have been running The French Restaurant at Silver Spring Farm since the early 1940's. Here refugees from a devastated Post WWII France could get out of their strange and unfamiliar New York City environs and "vacation" not too far from the city for a weekend or sometimes longer with conviviality, bonhomie and, of course, incomparable French cuisine.
Silver Spring Farm has a website, so I will not waste time here listing their unique and distinguished menu here. I will, however, give two pieces of advice. First, go there hungry. The portions are generous and irresistible; and, trust me; you do not want to find yourself full before the dessert. Second, ask about off-the-menu specials. I had a chicken, beef, lamb sampler in three different sauces that I can re-experience days later by simply closing my eyes and touching the tip of my tongue to my palate, yum.