4. Old-School French Food Has Risen From the Dead.
It wasn’t so long ago, in this locavore-crazed town, that assorted gasbag critics (present company included) and Internet pontificators were trumpeting the sad demise of soufflés, foie gras, and all the other delicacies dating back to the glory days of fancy French cuisine. Well, times have changed. These days, some of the most trend-conscious eaters in town are falling all over themselves to book a table in the one of the many dining rooms at Daniel Humm’s popular restaurant The NoMad at the hotel of the same name on the corner of Broadway and 28th Street. The prices aren’t cheap (the asparagus famously cost $24), and your experience can vary wildly depending on which room you’re seated in. But the solid, well-executed menu is the same wherever you sit, and the best things on it tend to be Humm’s interpretations of old Gallic favorites, like the classic beef tartare served with cornichons, and the rosy torchon of foie gras, which is molded around a torchon of tête de cochon. But Humm’s greatest creation is the $79 roast chicken for two, which is prepared in a great, medieval-size wood-burning oven, and served, like in a grand country château, with deposits of buttery foie-gras-and-brioche stuffing inserted under the crackly skin.
Whenever Mrs. Platt and I take in a show at Lincoln Center, we like to drop into Daniel Boulud’s bustling Boulud Sud, on 64th Street, where $60 buys a three-course, pre-theater prix fixe dinner filled with neo-Provençal delicacies like fennel velouté touched with green apples, slips of beautifully seared daurade, and a classic moelleux au chocolat, dabbed with passion fruit, for dessert. For a slightly racier Provençal dinner downtown, our choice is the popular new bistro La Promenade des Anglais, on the ground floor of the London Terrace in Chelsea, where the talented, peripatetic chef Alain Allegretti has found a home serving the kind of classic comfort dishes he used to eat as a boy in Nice. Everything on the menu is good, but take particular note of the blue-plate specials, like coq au vin (Tuesdays), short-rib Bourguignon (Saturdays), and the rust-colored, Marseille-quality soupe de poissons, which Allegretti scatters with shreds of Gruyère and serves with a pot of garlicky, fresh-whipped rouille.
That practiced Francophile and Boulud veteran Andrew Carmellini will be cooking up similar pleasures when he opens his new bistro, Lafayette, in a month or two, down the street from the Public Theater, but until then, the best place to sample the New Wave of French cooking downtown is Ginevra Iverson and Eric Korsh’s deceptively modest East Village mom-and-pop operation, Calliope. With its smoky mirrors and standard-issue café tabletops, this East 4th Street restaurant looks like a thousand other brasseries in town. But there’s nothing standard issue about the housemade terrines (which the kitchen constructs from scratch with tête du porc or cool chunks of lobster and braised leeks) or the nose-to-tail specialties like spicy pots of braised tripe, and tender slabs of beef tongue dabbed with an authentic sauce gribiche. The pastas—eggy rabbit pappardelle, ricotta-and-Swiss-chard dumplings with brown butter—are made from scratch, too, as are the classic French desserts, like the baba rhum, which the waiters soak with a tot of Jamaica rum and crown with a cloud of whipped cream, just like in the snooty, Michelin-starred restaurants along the Côte d’Azur.