Of all the kinds of restaurants in suburban New Jersey that a chef might hitch his dreams to, a traditional French bistro must rank among the most tempting and the most treacherous. Tempting because the pleasures are many, especially for those who have encountered the real thing; treacherous because that special Gallic alchemy of bustle and warmth, of forthright and deeply satisfying cooking, is confoundingly hard to pull off.
But Mark Papera, the 40-year-old chef and owner of Fricassée French Bistro in Montclair, is nothing if not persistent. He opened his first bistro, Epernay, in Montclair 13 years ago, had a decent run of it, then sold it six years later and moved to Ithaca, N.Y., where he opened another bistro. He eventually sold that one, too. After a few stops and starts Mr. Papera, a Verona native with a serious thing for French comfort food, has returned to the same location as the former Epernay, revamping the space and reopening in late February with a new name and a new vibe.