[Pigging by Wilfrid: March 10, 2014]
No matter how many of New York's bijou traditional bistrots one eats at, one never seems to exhaust the supply. Lucien, Demarchelier, Chez Jacques, La Mangeoire--the list is still endless, the quality variable.
After the jump: there's a game festival starting today.
As I finished writing this review, I receiveda mailing about the restaurant's game festival, scheduled to run from today through March 23, featuring dishes like wild boar pâté and shank of venison.
I recently dined as a guest of the restaurant, and for much of the evening in the company of co-owner Christian Schienle, who also directs the kitchen. Christian--an Austrian bon viveur, for whom the word "ebullient" might have been invented--is a relative newcomer to the restaurant. He married into it (wife Pamela Schienle is a co-owner) some seven years ago, bringing with him a number of years of experience at the doyenne of UES French restaurants, L'Absinthe.
Anyone who shares my regard for L'Absinthe will find this significant, although Christian has spent his life in hotels and restaurants, beginning with Vienna's spectacular Hotel Sacher.
In the softly lit, salt-and-pepper monochrome of the dining room, surrounded by similarly monochrome photographs of Paris, I worked my way through a series of traditional, but modestly updated, classics: escargots, cuissons de grenouille, soupe de poisson, pot au feu...and drank happily from the unusually deep list of wines by the glass (mainly, but certainly not exclusively, French).
Snails, usually presented in the traditional indented plate as an appetizer portion, were served individually in spoons, and in the traditional "mode of accommodation"--as Liebling would put it: bathed in a parlsey and garlic butter. Notably, these were not the tiny, densely chewy snails, which sneak out of cans onto the menus of lesser bistros, but properly plump and tender morsels.
Christian avoids the pretension of calling the fish soup "bouillabaisse," knowing that the odd and ugly fish the Marseillaise pile into the dish aren't readily available here. But it is served, bouillabaisse-fashion, with a punchy red rouille (a paste of peppers, garlic, and saffron), as well as grated cheese and croutons. The base was red snapper.
Bringing us slowly up the evolutionary scale (yes, Liebling again), grilled salmon was neatly criss-crossed with char marks, and served over beans (small white, and green) in a beurre blanc. But I was waiting for the pot-au-feu, a dish built for winter evenings. And this was a pot-au-feu Viennoise, if ever I've seen one. Using the tremblingly tender meat from beef short ribs, the broth can be bolstered with mustard or horseradish, its richness cut with little cornichons.
In fact, it reminded me of the tafelspitz at Seäsonal in midtown, which is certainly a compliment. In fact, it reminded me that gently poached beef is a cross-European tradition, from pot-au-feu, through tafelspitz, to English "boiled beef and carrots," proving that beef is not just for grilling.
After Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc with the snails, and a Simmonet Febvre Chablis with the soup, I had advanced to a Hautes Tuileries from Laland-Pomerol. It's unconventional to serve frog legs after a meat course, but these were frog legs with panache, and I enjoyed an equally unconventional wine pairing with them: Chapelle St-Arnoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
No retiringly small frog drumsticks here: a pair of full-on legs, the meat silky and flavorful (the largest I ever ate were served at a restaurant in Guernsey, and must have come from frogs the size of turkeys--but these were generous). A Pernod sauce sent fragrance across the table.
Almost no appetite by the this time for the neatly folded crêpe filled with macadamia-studded cream and strawberries, or the closing crème brûlée. I was managing, nevertheless, to contemplate other treats from the menu, like the Sunday cassoulet, the canard à l'orange, the signature skate with lemon and capers, and the rognons de veau.
The menu is long, as are the approaches to it, including two prix fixe lunches, prix fixe brunch, and a prix fixe dinner which has skate au beurre noir among the choices (three courses, $27.95). On the carte, entrées range mostly from upper teens to upper twenties; plenty of wines by the glass in the $10-$12 range.
This is a restaurant which could turn me into a glouton, mais un glouton très heureux.