At Gigi’s Folderol II in Westtown, out in the sticks definitely
doesn’t mean out of touch
By Jorge S. Arango
Virginia Morrow, co-owner with her husband, Dion, of Gigi’s Folderol II in Westtown, likes to say the restaurant sits in “the Bermuda Triangle” of Orange County. Residents and day-trippers rarely stop by the tiny town, which is located right in the middle of the area between Port Jervis, Warwick and Middletown. To be sure, the place is pretty remote. Finding our way involved driving long and winding roads through beautiful farmland — as well as by Bob’s Gun Exchange, a tattoo parlor, and the Free Spirit Nature Camp (yes, it sounds like a nudist colony, but it is actually a kid’s summer camp).
It may not be a casual jaunt down the road, and you won’t find the lost city of Atlantis when you arrive, but foodies who don’t allow themselves the extra 15 minutes drive are really missing out. There’s serious cooking going on at Gigi’s, and it’s worth traveling for.
The name is a composite of two histories: Gigi is
The building is a cedar shake-clad farmhouse with a glass addition. The mood inside this 55-seat restaurant is decidedly casual. Diners can choose between the light-filled space along one side of the house (all lace cafÃ© curtains and bead-board wainscotting), or the cozier, wallpapered dining room two steps up toward the front. Dion, a New Zealander, runs the bar, while French-born Virginia and another server tend the tables. (The night we dined there, her partner was a very efficient, funny woman named Valerie who, upon learning the restaurant was being reviewed when I asked for our check, quipped that I could refer to her as Matilda if we hadn’t liked the service. Relax, Valerie — we did.)
The chef is Ken Struble, a Culinary Institute of America grad who cut his teeth first in Memphis, then at Becco, Lidia and Joe Bastianich’s famous Italian eatery in Manhattan, where Struble was pasta chef. A local boy, he returned to the area four years ago to replace the restaurant’s former chef. Struble has a self-described “global palate,” and combines classic techniques with ingredients from all over the world, almost always to exquisite effect.
How global is it? Plenty. I started with unagi, a fillet of Japanese glass eel perfectly broiled and served atop wilted spinach, all of it swimming in a ponzu broth pleasantly sweetened with honey ($10.95). The dish is usually served with watercress, which provides a peppery bite, but it was unavailable the night we visited. Believe me, though, I’m not complaining: the spinach was a nice bitter contrast to the caramelized sweetness of the eel. Also on the plate was a tiny seaweed salad tossed in sesame oil, which gave the dish a lovely briny crunch.
My companion ordered pan-seared diver scallops ($9.95), three enormous bivalves beautifully presented in their fan-shaped shells, which were propped against little mounds of mashed potato and accompanied by a beurre rouge and the same seaweed salad. It was very good, but the potato was really a cosmetic device mainly there to prop up the picture-perfect shells. The beurre rouge, too, though excellently prepared, seemed gratuitous against the dense richness of the scallops. Something lighter and slightly acid (yuzu or kaffir lime, perhaps) would give this dish a cleaner, fresher taste. But this is quibbling.
We paused before entrÃ©es with a spinach salad ($8.95) served with fresh thyme-infused honey and roasted pecans and topped by a phyllo roll filled with goat cheese and woodland mushrooms (that night, creminis). Struble says he likes the phyllo to remain slightly doughy. Still, to my mind its best asset is its papery flakiness. Rather than roll it tightly as he does, a looser hand would exploit this quality.
Since we were ordering fish and fowl for our main courses and it was hot outside, we selected a full-bodied Sequoia Grove California Chardonnay, at $32 the upper end of an eminently reasonable wine list (a $52 Barolo is the most expensive selection). It worked wonderfully with the fish special, a Nile perch served with red pepper “coulis” ($19.95). The quotation marks are mine. Struble admits to taking poetic license here, since coulis is usually a raw vegetable or fruit purÃ©e, and this version was mixed with fish fumÃ© and served hot. But when something is this good, I say to hell with semantics. Nile perch is a big, fleshy, mild-tasting freshwater swimmer from Africa’s Lake Victoria whose refined flavor would be masked by anything too complex. The intense roasted red pepper taste is a simple and inspired partner.
The Colorado ostrich was marinated with ginger and chile and served with a pomegranate reduction ($24.95). The ostrich (a meat I had never tasted before) was like a combination of squab and hangar steak, and this gaminess benefited nicely from the spice and sweet of the preparation — the one adding tingle and zing, the other imbuing what is an extremely lean (and consequently healthy) meat with dark, syrupy depth.
Desserts were divine. A passion fruit mousse felt light as air and was served with fresh raspberries and whipped cream ($5), and the peach galette in puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream ($5) was a quintessential summer treat. If this is the way people are fed when they disappear into the Bermuda Triangle, it’s no wonder we never see them again!