Chez Louis was never as beloved or as long-lasting as Forgione's home base, but the Parisian restaurant that inspired it, L'Ami Louis, is -- except by those who revile it for its unbelievable overpricing of succulent, incredibly unadorned home cooking. Equally beloved, once upon a time, were David's Cookies, at least when the baking of these goodies was overseen by a very large un-Keeblerlike creature named David Liederman. Thanks to the popular munchies, enough revenue was chipped in, so to speak, to allow Liederman to open Chez Louis on Second Avenue, where the food wasn't as sublime as its inspiration but was far more affordable.
David's Cookies is no longer Liederman's concern (the oatmeal-raisin ones now taste like little damp bath mats with NutraSweetened capers). But after a respite of eight years, he has brought Chez Louis back, barely a shuffle-hop-step away from Radio City Music Hall in the old Television City space. This couldn't have been a long-gestating project. It would take less time to throw out the old TVs and the unmemorable memorabilia, slap on some buff paint, install corporate upholstery, and nail up some bad French posters than it would for the Pillsbury Doughboy to have a body wax. There isn't a metro stop in Paris as dispiriting as this black-ceilinged room.
But one addition injects the place with energy to equal the Marais on a Sunday afternoon and sets this Chez Louis far ahead of the original. From his soothing mussel soup with a bare slash of saffron to deep, musky escargots bathing in a luscious bath of garlic, to a delicious tartine of tomatoes and goat cheese that has a perfume as seductive as Anouk Aimee tossing her head, Matthew Tivy's cooking is so potently rich, and yet completely direct and unfussy, it's as satisfying as sitting with a best friend on a weekday afternoon when there's no job to run back to. His terrine of goose foie gras is lush and indiscreet, his lobster ravioli in white-truffle cream almost giddily delicious. The roast suckling pig is reason for those who crave this dish to hunger for Tuesdays, the only day they serve it. Hanger steak is as good as the one in the Paris outpost, sinewy, briny, and full of brash flavor. Skate has the delicate balance of its nutty flavor bathed in a rich garlic sauce. The pecan crust on the chicken breast is a bit overdressed, but the roast chicken could make some mothers jealous. (Don't worry, Mom -- not you.) Tivy's menu is small, but it's appealing and smart and will cost you less than a taxi from Charles de Gaulle to the Place Vendôme.
Best of all, his kitchen knows how to turn out desserts that delight. Fallen soufflé could bring tears to those weary from searching for chocolate unsullied by fruity partners. His lemon tart is just puckering enough. And his fruit tarts are perfect little smile factories. And, of course, there are cookies. David's cookies. The real David's cookies. Alas, it's the only place you can get them. So you can't really count that as a comeback, but I guess in the end it's all about -- damn, I can't believe I'm quoting them -- staying alive.
Chez Louis, 74 West 50th Street (212-333-3388). Open Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight. (Will open Sundays starting in mid-October.) Appetizers, $5.50 to $18; entrées, $13.50 to $34. All major credit cards.