420 East 59th Street, 212-758-0323
From the street, it’s just another unpromising-looking midtown restaurant, next door to a parking garage, facing the 59th Street Bridge. An Astroturf patio completes the disguise. But once you step inside, the overpowering scent of hothouse flowers makes you forget where you are, as does the charmingly wacky French-country-kitsch décor—by which we mean wall-to-wall knickknacks: Bundt molds, cuckoo clocks, vintage prints, crockery, and other flea-market finds. The owner and chef, Antoine Bouterin, formerly of Le Périgord, cooks traditional Provençal cuisine, comfort food for those not inclined toward mac and cheese. Start with the homemade pâté or the light, flaky crab cakes; then order either the bouillabaisse, redolent of saffron and pastis, the candied lamb stew (to be eaten with a spoon), or the sublime osso buco, served “Provençal grandmother style” (so tender that you could practically eat it with a straw). Finish with the signature dessert: the île flottante, an island of custard surrounded by vanilla sauce. You’ll find yourself wondering if the powerful Sutton Place regulars who treat this restaurant like a private club haven’t orchestrated some sort of conspiracy to keep it from attaining the destination status it deserves..
Best Well-Kept Secret
From the 2004 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine
So what exactly does “best” mean in a city with thousands of pizza joints, hundreds of celebrity masseuses, and museum-worthy concept shops on every corner? Well, in the case of this, our annual “Best of New York” roundup, there’s a heavy emphasis on what’s new or what has somehow remained virtually unheard of (until now, of course).