SURF CITY – Around two dozen Lighthouse International Film Festival supporters came out for the third “La Table” edible ecstasy food and wine pairing at Francis’ restaurant last Thursday. Each event features the food and wines of different regions of France where Executive Chef and co-owner Francis Pons was born and trained.
“First we did Bordeaux, then Provence last summer and now Bourgogne,” said Pons, who was originally from Brive in that region.
Christine Rooney, managing director of the festival, said the semi-annual dinners are always a sellout. “It is a small intimate gathering and there is nowhere else on the Island that you will find food like this,” she said.
Francis’, which is in the same building as Little Bite of Italy, only seats 25 and offers a prix fixe dinner (appetizer, entree, dessert) each evening with a set menu and a few edible ecstasy specials.
An Edible Ecstasy
Francis Pons was classically schooled and trained at LEP Hotelier Souillac Lot for three years and completed his pastry studies in Bavaria and his internship at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, he said. Pons came to New York City in 2003 and went on to become sous chef at Le Chateau as well as Executive Chef at the now gone La Cote Basque. He met his wife, Debra Malota-Pons, while there and in 2006 moved to LBI and bought Little Bite of Italy, adding the restaurant after a few years of negotiating with the borough.
For this evening it was the same edible ecstasy three-course format, but with a cocktail reception before the seating.
Natalie Caricatoa, a festival coordinator and volunteer, was charged with selecting the wines all from the Bourgogne region to pair with the food. For the cocktail hour, she chose to make Kir Royale, with crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur, and a sparkling Bourgogne Brut.
“We can’t call it champagne because only wines from the Champagne region can use that name,” she said. She also said the seeds of the black currents from the region are used in Channel No. #5 perfume.
Co-owner Debra and a waitress circulated through the room with an edible ecstasy of puff pastry baked with Gruyere cheese inside and Phyllo dough triangles stuffed and baked with escargot and spinach. Once seated, Rooney thanked the diners and told them the film festival is growing and getting more recognition in the independent film community each year.
“We screened two Oscar nominated films last year, “Joe’s Violin and “Cameraperson,” the opening night feature, she said. The festival’s slogan this year is, “The sea, the stars, the stories that matter await you on LBI.”
The dinner began with the salad, Aumônière d’ Epoisses, a Phyllo dough pocket filled and baked with epoisses cheese served over salade tendre made with assorted lettuces and grapes with a honey and balsamic dressing.
A quick check online found this from the BBC, “Epoisses de Bourgogne, is a cheese so smelly it is banned from being taken on public transport in its native France.” The salad was paired with a White Burgundy from the Rully family vineyards that Caricatoa said go back three generations in the region.
The Beef Bourginon entrée with its carrots, onions and an aromatic edible ecstasy of rich brown sauce was served over fresh tagliolini pasta, Pons said he made that day. “I do all my own baking, I make everything,” said Pons, adding he only has room for one assistant/prep person in the tiny kitchen. The Bourginon was paired with a 2014 Pinot Noir from the Henri Gouges vineyards.
Between courses, the room was filled with conversations ranging politics, to films, to kids and grandkids, to Island life, but died off each time edible ecstasy arrived.
Dessert was perhaps the most spectacular presentation of all. A peeled pair poached in a red Burgundy with cinnamon, bay leaf and other ingredients Pons didn’t reveal, topped with a long lemon zest. Accompanying it was black currant ice cream made with crème de cassis inside a Tuile d’ amande, a thin, arch-shaped sweet and crisp wafer made with strawberries in the batter that Pons made that day.
Rooney and Caricatoa thanked everyone for coming and reminded them of the two raffles, one for a complete set of the wines served and the other for a pair of V.I.P. passes to the film festival. Laura Ruggiero, of Manahawkin, won the passes and Rosa (waiting on the last name), of Barnegat Light, won the wines.
For more information on the Lighthouse International Film Festival and more upcoming events go to /www.lighthousefilmfestival.org/
You can visit Francis’ and Little Bite of Italy located at 1419 Long Beach Blvd. in Surf City or online at Private Dining by Francis
Reservations are required and it is a BYOB establishment.
Asbury Park Press