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Villard Michel Richard  

French Extends Its Encore

The great postmillennial French-restaurant boom, which we reported on last year in this space, shows no signs of abating. The latest prominent New York chef to rediscover his love for old-fashioned French cooking is Daniel Boulud’s famous disciple Andrew Carmellini, whose glittering new full-service Noho brasserie, Lafayette, features soft scrambled eggs “vol-au-vent” with chèvre and leeks for breakfast; crocks of soft, gamy tripe “Bourguignon” for dinner; and a glittering patisserie counter, where you can purchase fresh-baked madeleines for $1.75 apiece and five kinds of éclair. Carmellini’s restaurants tend to get better with age, and right now dinnertime service in the large, crowded room can feel harried and overrun. So, go at lunch, when the menu is chocked with old-fashioned bistro specials (beef tartare decked with a raw quail egg, bacon-wrapped slabs of pâté maison, a fine big-city facsimile of niçoise salad), and you can enjoy the wintry, Parisian-style light streaming through the tall café windows in relative peace.

If you’ve forgotten what an expert, non-microwaved version of duck à l’orange tastes like, I recommend you run, don’t walk, to Le Philosophe, on Bond Street, where the executive chef, Matthew Aita, serves an exceptional, New Age version of this forgotten dish: a single, perfectly seared duck breast, a streak of gourmet-quality potatoes mousseline, and a sauce that tastes like the delicate essence of oranges, instead of something you’d find at the bottom of a carryout order of General Tso’s.

There’s also a fine example of canard à l’orange on the menu of the neighborly new Soho bistro Little Prince, along with textbook renditions of other ageless bistro favorites that the original chef, Paul Denamiel, learned to cook at his family’s restaurant Le Rivage, in the theater district. He has since been replaced by Matt Conroy, who still makes the onion soup the old-fashioned way (with a deeply flavored duck, pork, and chicken stock, and a gooey cap of melted Emmentaler cheese), and the classic “sole meunière pour deux” is crusted with a light dusting of fish roe and sizzled in a cast-iron pan. But the dish I keep going back for is an addictive version of tartare de boeuf, which is hand-chopped, then folded with shallots, cognac, and the lightest, nontraditional touch of Frank’s hot sauce, for a surreptitious, down-home kick.

My favorite Franco-style beef burger of the year is currently available at lunch at Montmartre, in Chelsea; the restaurant’s new chef, Michael Toscano, makes it with a béarnaise cheese and slabs of buttery toast, and if it’s a good country chicken you’re after, the choice is Rotisserie Georgette, on 60th Street, where Daniel Boulud’s longtime public-relations czar, Georgette Farkas, has drafted another Boulud alumnus, executive chef David Malbequi, to help her resurrect classic rotisserie specialties like spit-roasted culotte d’agneau flavored with lemons and mint, whole-cooked piglets dripped with bacon and onion marmalade (which you have to order in advance), and fat Label Rouge Poule de Luxe chicken for two, stuffed with a crumble of mushrooms and bread crumbs and garnished with foie gras.

For the ultimate in Continental style, however, my discerning, Upper East Side mother recommends you pay a visit to Villard Michel Richard, which the accomplished former pastry chef Michel Richard has recently opened in the old Villard Mansion, at the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue. If it’s lunchtime, be sure to ask to sit in the sun-splashed Madison room, and order the double-decker mushroom feuilleté layered with puff pastry, followed by the great ocean-liner-size napoleon, served in a pool of crème anglaise. For dinner, I suggest you proceed to the small, wood-paneled Gallery tasting room, where it’s a pleasure to sample Richard’s playful pastrylike creations, like tuna napoleon niçoise and the delicious, sugar-capped foie gras brûlée, while watching the French chefs move back and forth in the kitchen, dressed in their tall white toques.


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