As the summer season approaches, diners headed to the midcoast will have two new restaurants in which to indulge their inner francophile, each showcasing a different style of cuisine from the European nation.
La Cave, located at 7 Public Landing in Camden, opened in May and focuses on French bistro food like escargot and duck fat French fries with garlic aioli. Alsace, located at 1422 Heald Highway in Union, will open this summer and take a more meat-and-potatoes approach from the Northeast France region.
Both are new to the midcoast.
Jennifer Roux, co-owner of the new Alsace, said the restaurant’s menu will reflect the Alsace region’s unique cuisine, which is characterized by heavy German influences. Dishes may include sauerkraut, red cabbage, potatoes, wursts, spaetzle and more.
“I think people think of French food as being very fancy and hard to understand and not approachable. This will be very welcoming,” Roux said.
Alsace will also serve tarte flambee, a regional speciality that’s made of very thinly rolled out bread dough covered with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and lardons, Roux said. The restaurant has been experimenting with different potential toppings including Maine blueberries and one with leeks, mushrooms, onions and lardon. The dish, traditionally, was also used as a way to test how the wood-fired oven was heating up based on how fast the dough crisped up.
“They would eat this tart flambe as a treat with whatever they pulled out of the garden,” Roux said. “This is a really beautiful tradition from rural Alsace.”
At La Cave in Camden, the bistro fare represents a different style of French cooking. The menu includes dishes like salmon tartare with avocado and citrus on crispy green plantain chips and an arugula salad with goat cheese, Morse’s beet relish, toasted pine nuts and avocado join escargot prepared with garlic, butter, and parsley.
“I’ve been talking to every customer and everybody’s been saying the food is incredible. And we are now known in town for probably the best mussels in Camden which is incredible,” said Ben Toussaint, who co-owns the restaurant with Will Statz and Devon Morris.
La Cave’s mussels are served with a white creamy wine sauce, aromatic herbs and spices.
The French onion soup — the restaurant calls it Wood Fired Onion Soup Au Gratin — is also notable. The beef stock cooks in their wood fired oven for 48 hours, creating so much flavor, Toussaint said. The soup is topped with traditional gruyere cheese.
“The flavors are just original and just really, really bold and incredible,” Toussaint said.
The bistro serves what Toissaint calls “French-sized portions,” which are smaller than typical American-sized portions. The dishes are meant to be shared.
Alsace’s kitchen will be headed by Jennifer Roux’s husband, Fabrice Roux, a French chef from the Champagne region who was trained in Paris before working in Las Vegas and San Francisco. Together, they owned three restaurants in California before relocating to Maine. This will be their first Maine restaurant.
Jennifer Roux said she sees similarities between Maine and the Alsace region, both of each are in the northeast region of their respective countries.
“We like the food that’s not fancy even though he’s from a very fancy background professionally,” Jennifer Roux said. “The food we like is often classified as peasant food, as in the food your grandmother would make for you.”
Alsace will open sometime this summer, once a staff is in place. The restaurant is presently still hiring for kitchen staff. They are hoping, in the meantime, to open for an outdoor lunch service with daily specials.
La Cave is open seven days a week and often has live jazz music, something the restaurant plans to continue through the summer season. On Wednesdays, they serve a limited menu — something that will continue until their staff is fully trained. The other six days, they offer a full menu from 5pm to 10pm and a smaller bar menu from 10pm to 12:30pm.
Chef Elizabeth Toussaint, Ben Toussaint’s ex-wife, is heading up the kitchen.
“She went to one of the best culinary schools in Colombia where she is from and has since worked in multiple restaurants in Colombia and NJ including and a few years at Primo in Rockland,” said Ben Toussaint.