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On my final night back in western Massachusetts prior to returning to Virginia for the new semester, my mother, step-father, and I dined at Chez Albert, Amherst's lone restaurant serving French cuisine. I had long heard that the food was solid, but that the restaurant was overpriced and served small portions. This may well have been true in the past, but it was not my experience; now, they serve generous portions for reasonable prices, and the food is both well presented and delicious.
Sunday through Wednesday, the restaurant offers a three course prix fixe menu, priced at $35.00, which includes a choice of three appetizers (Butternut Squash, Simple Salad, or Pate de Foie), three entrees (Chicken Fricassee, Monkfish Cheeks, or Pumpkin Gnocchi), and two desserts (Creme Brulee or Chocolate Mousse). The servings, as I said, are quite large; I had the Pate de Foie, the Monkfish Cheeks, and the Creme Brulee, and I barely finished my dessert--though, I did have a large chunk of my step-father's pork and a tremendous amount of bread.
We ate on a Tuesday night, and I believe the restaurant had not planned on having a full house; only one bartender and the owner were serving, and I suspect the kitchen was short staffed as well, so everything took a little longer than it should have to come out. That said, bread was never far from hand, and the wait did not seem overly tedious. We were initially given a basket of bread (which was a thick, crusty variety, and quite good) along with a white bean spread that was tasty, though we did have difficulty identifying it; honestly, I thought it was something involving butter, or possibly rendered fat of some variety.
When my appetizer finally came, it was a large rectangle of pate, which had a rich, meaty flavor, and a consistency that allowed it to be spread but was not so soft as the foie gras I had in France. It was served with a very good mustard that reminded me of some of the good stone ground mustards I had in France, as well as a thoroughly delicious dried cherry chutney that was just the right level of sweetness and tartness each. There were also a couple of cornichon, which is traditional, but in this case added little. The bread, again, was a good vehicle for the pate and its accompaniment. This was among the better pates I have had, and the cherry was just absolutely perfect with it.
Following up the foie was my entree of Monkfish Cheeks with Lobster au Jus. The cheeks, lightly batter and fried, were very good, though one piece was just very slightly undercooked; that was easily overlooked due to the quality of the remaining pieces, which were each substantial. Cheeks are known to be the most tender part of many fish and animals, and the monkfish is no exception; these particular cheeks were no exception. Served with very good mashed potatoes, as well as a truly decadent lobster sauce (along with a small piece of lobster itself), this was a fine main dish, and the one minor flaw was easily overlooked. My step-father's confit pork was also spectacular, moist and succulent, though my mother's gnocchi, which had a texture as if they had been flash fried, were only okay.
The creme brulee for dessert was very good, with a thick, hard crust of nearly burnt sugar topping a light, creamy custard that was as good as any I have had before. I do truly love creme brulee, it is among my favorite desserts when made properly, especially since it tends not to be overly sweet; kudos to the restaurant for doing this so well.
All in all, a fine restaurant, and a fine meal. It does appear to be vegetarian friendly (I suppose you would have to be to exist in Amherst), and the prices are distinctly reasonable, especially considering the enormous portions you get. Both my step-dad and my mom had leftovers.