November 7, 2018

Bonne Assiette Restaurant in Pennington Serves Classic/Modern French Cuisine

DINNER IS SERVED: “I want people to come and experience classic/modern French cuisine; the French way of cooking.” Assi Li Ponte, chef/owner of Bonne Assiette in Pennington, is shown with a sampling of his culinary creations: Filet Mignon, served with potato dauphinois, sauteed asparagus, and béarnaise sauce; Salmon with orange glaze, baby carrots, Nicoise olives, heirloom tomatoes, saba wine reduction, and pistou oil; Diver Scallops, served on a faro and corn confit, topped with orange beurre blanc and micro greens; and Mustard Chicken served with new potato fondant, baby carrots, and haricot verts with brandy mustard sauce.

By Jean Stratton

Dining out at Bonne Assiette in Pennington is not only a pleasure for the palate, it is a splendid experience on many levels. The welcoming atmosphere, attractive decor with French motif, and attentive service all combine to create a lunch or dinner to remember.

As chef/owner Assi Li Ponte says, “I want the people who come here to have a really good time. A great gastronomic experience! This is the hospitality business. You have to be hospitable. And everyone who comes here is treated like a guest.”

Opened in 2016 at 23 West Delaware Avenue in Pennington, Bonne Assiette (“good plate” in French) has received a warm welcome, earning high praise from professional food critics and the public alike.

“My birthday dinner was held at this charming, delicious restaurant,” says a recent diner. “The French cuisine was over the top. Adding to the occasion, the chef/owner came by our table to personally illustrate his culinary creations. Just superb!”

Friendly Host

Li Ponte is indeed a friendly host who very much enjoys welcoming guests to his restaurant. The warm, inviting, and uncrowded space inspires a leisurely dining experience. Featuring original exposed wooden ceiling beams and nicely spaced tables, the main dining area seats 30, and a separate private party room also seats 30. Outdoor patio dining is available in seasonal weather.

Li Ponte’s history prior to launching Bonne Assiette is fascinating. Born in Israel to a Spanish father and Moroccan mother, he learned early about cooking. His parents were chefs and owned a restaurant, offering French and Moroccan cuisine.

“I grew up in the business,” he recalls. “I really learned cooking at home, and everything I know came from my mother.”

Deciding to explore new places and opportunities, he moved to Europe when he was 20, and worked in restaurants in Italy and France.

Then, in 1986, he came to the U.S., spending many years in restaurants in New York City. An offer to serve as executive banquet chef at Rat’s Restaurant at the popular Grounds For Sculpture brought him to New Jersey.

He always wanted to have his own French restaurant, however, and when space became available at the Pennington location, he did not hesitate.

Li Ponte had definite ideas about the cuisine and dining experience he wanted to offer customers.

“Everything is organic and non-GMO, and I try to offer the freshest ingredients possible,” he explains. “There is no substitute for organic food. Everything I have is as local as it can be. That is, except for the cheese, which is French! I shop on a daily basis and deal with local farms and suppliers to guarantee the freshest ingredients.”

Art Form

He offers special recipes, some passed down from his parents, but he is always creating new dishes and flavor combinations.

“You always want to develop your own creations and come up with something new. Cooking is like any other art form.”

Customers will be in for a treat when they can choose from a variety of dishes, including vegetarian and vegan.

They may wish to start with appetizers, such as Fois Gras, Escargots Bourguignon, or Moules Frites (Prince Edward Island mussels), among a very popular selection, also including Salmon Tartare and Baked St. Andre Cheese.

A variety of soups and salads is always available, and favorite entrees (all served with a side) include roasted French Lavender Chicken, with new potato fondant, mushrooms, heirloom carrots, and pan au jus; and Crevettes Monaco with sweet pink shrimps, wild mushrooms confiture, Parisian gnocchi, and brandy cream sauce.

Other popular entrees are Pan-Seared Diver Scallops, with creamed vegetable farro confit and orange beurre blanc; and Magret de Carnad, duck breast with grilled peach, rutabaga puree, and black currant rosehip glaze.

There are also seasonal choices, such as Boeuf Bourguignon, a favorite winter dish.

Grass-Fed Meat

Lunches are equally popular, including hot selections with choice of soup or salad and entree, such as Orange Glazed Organic Faroe Island Salmon with seasonal vegetables and pistou oil; as well as Organic Chicken Breast Tenders with bouquetiere (vegetables) and brandy mustard cream sauce.

A variety of sandwiches includes special burgers with grass-fed meat; Filet Mignon Sliders; Roasted Turkey with apple chutney, bacon, and pomme frites; Smoked Chicken Breast; and Parisian Bistrot Ham and Swiss Cheese, among others.

Among the side dishes, French fries are the most popular, reports Chef Li Ponte. “They are really the best-sellers. Twice fried in duck fat, they are a real specialty.”

No one who dines at Bonne Assiette skips dessert! The choices tempt the taste buds, and are basically impossible to resist. Among them: the traditional French favorite Creme Brulee; and Opera Cake (three layers of thin almond sponge cake soaked with espresso, filled with ganache and coffee butter cream).

And for chocolate lovers: Dome de Chocolate, featuring chocolate dacquoise, filled with raspberry coulis and bittersweet chocolate mousse; also, Marquis de Chocolate, with bittersweet chocolate mousse, chocolate genoise, topped with chocolate mirror and kirsch syrup.

Beverages include a range of choices from Perrier and unsweetened iced tea or hot tea to coffee, cappuccino, and espresso.

“I try to keep prices as affordable as possible,” points out Li Ponte. Entrees start at $16 and sandwiches at $10.

Bonne Assiette is a BYO restaurant, and many customers bring wine to enjoy with their lunch or dinner.

Private Party Room

Catering is also available, and the restaurant offers a private party room for individual groups, as well gatherings for companies and organizations, including fundraisers.

“We support area charities,” notes Li Ponte. “It is very important to give back to the community.”

He is very encouraged with the reception Bonne Assiette has received from customers from all over the area.

“We have had great word-of-mouth. We have many regular customers from Princeton and the area, as well as lots of new people all the time. We are a destination, but we are also getting more foot traffic and walk-ins, which is a good sign.

“It’s great enjoyment for me when the empty plates come back to the kitchen, and when someone tells me how much they enjoyed the food. When I know they appreciate something I created, this makes all the hard work worthwhile.

“Money is not everything. You have to find what makes you happy, and I look forward to giving more people the opportunity to experience what French cuisine is all about.”

Bonne Assiette is open Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday is dinner only from 5 to 8:30 p.m. (609) 737-7174. Website: