Montclair, NJ – What kind of plant based dishes can you expect to find at a French brasserie?

Plenty — if you are at Montclair’s Faubourg, one of 12 restaurants participating in Plant Based for the Planet during March.

Charolais beef, sweetbreads, foie gras, canard a l’orange, cream and butter — French haute cuisine is not known to skimp on animal ingredients; however, there is a strong tradition of serving all sorts of produce as long as its in season. Faubourg’s ebullient co-owner and executive chef, Olivier Muller, sat down with me to discuss our mutual preference for plant based dining, followed by a tasting of the specials he prepared specifically for the initiative.

Olivier Muller

Muller, native of the Alsatian city of Strasbourg, an area known for so many Michelin-starred restaurants, worked in NYC with Daniel Boulud for 20 years before settling in Montclair.

“Plant based (cooking) is the new frontier. It’s really coming into its own this year,” says Muller.

A dad and marathon runner, Muller has always featured a plant-based menu for all tastes: omnimvores, vegetarians and vegans.

“I prefer whole foods, and don’t like processed or foods trying to taste like something they are not, like the Beyond burgers. I experiment with lots of plant based dishes – but I know what my customers like – and if I can’t reproduce the taste to my liking, then I’ll include a tiny bit of dairy butter or cream. In spite of that, we are still doing a lot of good for the planet.”

Travelling to Europe frequently, his culinary creations are inspired by his travels – and his Greek wife.

“For example, on this month’s special entree, Grilled Avocado and Asparagus, I serve it over a bed of North African green whole grain – freekeh – and use barberries for a citrus flavor, rather than lemon. On the side is an almond based skordalia sauce, without cream, inspired from Greek cuisine.”

Muller joined me for a tasting of a variety – new to me – of plant based small plates found on the regular menu, as well as the two March specials. The addictive chickpea Panisse won me over – a creamy and crispy chickpea fritter specialty from the south of France. And from the French Riviera I also discovered his signature Monegasque dish “barbajuan” – a small fried ravioli stuffed with spinach, swiss chard, lemon zest and a “tiny bit of ricotta”. Both are wonderful appetizers to share with a cocktail or glass or wine.

Moving on to the vegan plant based specials, Chef Olivier popped out of the kitchen with a huge smile to present me with the fava bean toast or “tartine”. Very wow-worthy and Instagrammable it’s not only a gastronomic explosion of tastes and textures, it’s beautiful to look at – like a garden on your plate. It’s one of those dishes that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Start with a thick slab of grilled rustic rye bread, slathered with kale pesto (no cheese), creamy fresh fava beans, orange segments, pine nuts, and watermelon radish petals – pre-cut to serve three nicely.

I followed this up with the Grilled Avocado and Asparagus entree. It’s a filling and nutritious bouquet of green, dominated by large chunks of grilled avocado on top of grilled asparagus, freekeh tabbouleh, Marcona almonds (good anywhere anytime!) Skordalia sauce and a droplets of herbed tahini sauce. Indulgent and rich, but not too rich, it did not disappoint. If you’re looking for more choices, check out more than a dozen vegan selections on Faubourg’s plant based menu. We recommend either a pinot noir or chablis to accompany.

“So how did you like it?” asked the chef. Rhetorical, of course, as I was in a pleasant food fog from the amazing experience in one of the classiest settings in town. I hope these two specials will win a permanent place on Faubourg’s menu.

Muller beamed when speaking about his plant based creations, “The initiative is fantastic. I’m very thankful that you are doing this in Montclair – it’s super exciting. I’m a true believer of a plant based diet – I’ve actually had a menu in my restaurant for the past three years, and it’s fantastic, one step at a time, one meal at a time..and we’ll all get in a better place soon.”

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