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The New York Times

February  10, 2013


Steak au Poivre Makes a Comeback



When I was young, French dining reigned; if you wanted to eat fancy, you ate French. Then the restaurant landscape changed dramatically, and French restaurants, whether classic or more casual, became increasingly rare. That was one reason the opening of Ma Maison Brasserie in downtown Millburn in July generated so much enthusiasm. Another was that its chef and owner, Franco Ammirati, also owns the town’s beloved Café Luna, an intimate Italian-style restaurant with a distinctive European feel.


Is Ma Maison as pleasing? Does it serve the same good, reasonably priced food?


Depending on when you go and what you order, the answers can be yes and yes. I ate a plate of small, double-cut baby lamb chops grilled with garlic and herbs and was reluctant to share even one. The chops were small but meaty and cooked exactly as ordered, rare inside but with a crust that exuded the crisp, smoky flavor of the grill. Take even a nibble, and the chop oozes juice.


Another simple dish, a steak au poivre, crackled with the sharp, pungent flavors of red, black and yellow peppercorns. A pool of Cognac-scented cream beneath the steak balanced the intensity of the peppers on top. At $24.95, the dish is one of many reasonably priced entrees on a menu that also features lighter and less expensive items, including pastas and pizzas in the $12 to $20 range.


As for when you dine, Ma Maison, like Café Luna, is a family affair. Mr. Ammirati is the chef and owner, but on weekend nights, when his wife, Sharon, appears, the two brick-walled dining areas that make up the dimly lit restaurant suddenly glow. No hostess ever seemed more attentive, taking charge of new arrivals as if they were family.


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