With its new wardrobe of sunny Provençal prints and the magical vernal blooming of its sheltered garden, Provence at the age of twenty has never looked lovelier. And we’ve escaped the indoor din under the twisted branches out back. If only tonight’s dinner were as thrilling as the lushly romantic setting. Still, it’s early in the new reign of the practiced duo who brought us Five Points and Cookshop, and with the sure hand of Lynn McNeely (late of Barbuto) at the range, perhaps my expectations are too high. I am disappointed by a few gummy squares of ravioli with three snails in a nutty, garlicky cream, trendy nettles notwithstanding. I want more salty tang and not so much sweet in a pissaladière, and more than just a small ration of sea creatures in a shallow puddle of fish stew (for $26). These few inches of beef seem a meager measure of hanger steak at $27. (The very good frites are $6 extra.) Crunchy crumbed sardines with an herb salad, and housemade pork sausage served with braised shoulder and white beans in a black skillet show what the kitchen has already mastered. What am I asking for? Flavors as intense as the melting lemon curd in McNeely’s excellent tart, its rhubarb slow-roasted in orange juice with so little sugar it tastes like essence of rhubarb. Well, the pissaladière was soggy twenty years ago when I first celebrated this little bistro. Provence can be transplanted. It just needs time to grow.
38 MacDougal St., nr. Prince St.; 212-475-7500