Tuesday, February 27, 2024

French restaurant reopens with classically trained chef guiding next chapter

Tournedos Félix Faure, beef tenderloin with cracked black pepper, mushrooms, cognac and cream sauce served with matchstick fries and sautéed asparagus. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Chef Stephane Laporte, now donning the top toque in the kitchen at the recently reopened Far From France, has a proclivity for the branzino.

READ MORE: Pizza to pastries: As Il Forno closes, Far From France expands

ALSO: Far from France offers Wilmington residents a chance to enjoy fresh French pastries

It’s one of 50 or so items on the new dinner menu at the restaurant which flipped on the open sign Wednesday at the Pointe at Barclay.

“Loup de Mer et Chair de Crabe” is the technical name — sea bass floated in a touch of olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper, served with turned potatoes and julienne vegetables and topped with crab meat.

“It’s really light,” the chef said, “a mix of Mediterranean flavor with a touch of Parisian bistro.”

Owners Alban and Jacqueline Pelletier announced last fall Far From France was expanding into a larger space a few doors down from its previous location, which now sits empty but will find new life soon enough as Kilwins.

The French restaurant moved a few doors down where Il Forno once was. Far From France is now serving lunch, brunch, high tea and dinner five days a week. 

Laporte met the Pelletiers about a year ago. The husband-and-wife duo, who opened their café in 2016, had been on the hunt for a French chef. Alban Pelletier said he wanted to offer customers the most authentic cuisine from his country.

“Even though some Americans are good cooks nowadays, it’s just not the same outlook on the foods, not the same thinking, the same techniques,” Pelletier told Port City Daily.

The restaurant — 90-plus seats, both indoors and outdoors — has moved from counter service to tableside service, also shifting from light dishes served during lunch to heavier entrees at dinner.

Its soft opening took place last week, to which Pelletier said the feedback has been positive. 

“Everybody loves the food,” he said. “The kitchen is producing quality food and I’m pretty pleased with the front of the house. They all have a good attitude so far. So, now, it’s just everybody needs to get into their groove.” 

Pelletier has hired roughly 25 people so far. 

The newly opened Far From France seats a little more than 90 diners. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Laporte is a classically trained chef and graduate of the culinary arts school École de Paris des Métiers de la Table. He previously worked in Las Vegas at Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsey restaurants. He has been in Wilmington for six years, working in kitchens from Grand Cru to True Blue to Cut & Pour.

Working at Far From France “is like going home,” Laporte said. 

With the Pelletiers devising an extensive menu, Laporte is bringing the execution. There are almost 100 items between five menus. Lunch and high tea is pretty much the same as before — Croque Madame or Monsieur sandwiches, salads, soups and croissants.

Yet, there is a lengthier crepe menu, featuring about a dozen sweet and savory offerings. The Provençale is stuffed with sautéed zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, bell peppers, tomatoes and goat cheese, topped with two poached eggs.

The Myrtille et Fromage de Ricotta comes with a lemon ricotta cheese filling, fresh blueberries, whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Added in are brunch hours on Sundays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The dinner menu is entirely new. It features expected French classics like escargot and foie gras, as well as duck breast or rack of lamb with ratatouille

“We designed the menu with a French bistro in mind,” Pelletier said. “And when we met Stephane, we knew he had the experience to bring it to the table.”

The foie gras, a smooth duck mousse, is served alongside Sauternes aspic and a fig jam with toasted baguette. 

“It’s a classic combination,” Laporte said. 

The aspic’s clear jelly squares is normally savory and prepared from beef, veal, chicken, or fish stock. In this dish, it’s made with French Sauternes — a sweet wine from the Graves section in Bordeaux.

Duck foie gras with Sauternes aspic and a mixed green salad with fried goat cheese and pine nuts from Far From France. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

“But you need to find the right balance,” Laporte said. “You want it to melt in your mouth and find the right balance between the natural sugar of the wine and the sugar added, but we’re not cooking it so we’re not killing the alcohol either,” Laporte described.

One of the most difficult entrees to execute, he indicated, is the 1962 Maxim’s Special Corvina Façon Albert. It’s a whole filet of corvina fish, bread-encrusted and served in Vermouth butter with turned potatoes and sauteed asparagus. 

“So you want the bread to be crunchy and golden but the fish not dry,” Laporte said. 

All the bread is housemade as well. Pelletier expects to increase the baking output by three times than before. Baguettes come to the table with tapenade for dipping, are used as croutons to top the French onion soup, and cradle all the Parisian sandwiches — not to mention sweets.

Desserts include Grand Marnier soufflé, profiteroles and beignets, served with raspberry and chocolate sauces, among others.

In addition to the full-scale restaurant, Far From France still offers some retail items. Yet, Pelletier said it’s less than what he originally expected, since learning his former location will become a Kilwins. The ice cream shop also specializes in chocolates and candies.

“Of course, we’re doing the macarons, still,” Pelletier said.

It’s a Far From France signature — Maxim’s brand from France. They also sell jars of confit, tapenade and marinades from L’Epicurien.

Menu prices range from $9 to $25 for lunch and brunch; crepes are $11 to $18; and dinner is $9 and up, with entrees averaging around $35 (a kids’ menu is $10). A full French wine menu is available and craft cocktails are offered.

Lunch and dinner will operate Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday will feature brunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The bakery will open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The restaurant will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Truite à la Grenobloise features sautéed trout in butter with capers and lemon, turned potatoes and sautéed asparagus. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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