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La Grenouille

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

[Christopher Smith, The New York Times]

In my short post two Mondays ago about my parents’ 68th anniversary, I mentioned that they would be celebrating the next day at La Grenouille. They did, and they had a wonderful time. A week later — what do you know — La Grenouille is the subject of the weekly NYT restaurant review, its first NYT review since Ruth Reichl wrote about it in 1997. Sam Sifton, like Ruth, gives it three stars. And he writes a love letter to the city’s lone remaining great traditional French restaurant. I can’t resist quoting a couple of passages.

Back in the kitchen, the executive chef, Matthew Tropeano, spoons forcemeat pike into simmering broth. He naps the result with sauce and gives the plates to waiters who have known no other service. They present their customers a paragon of quenelles de brochet in the Lyonnaise style, a textbook example of classic French cuisine.

The dish is executed perfectly, a kind of beige-on-beige masterpiece devoid of irony or deconstructionist camp. (Only those without heart would call it gefilte fish.) It is delicious without being overwhelming, without being much more than ethereal pike, light as mist, buttery rice, a shellfish cream sauce with just a hint of nutmeg, a dab of American caviar. It is wonderful to eat at La Grenouille.

And the closing passage:

Let us stay happy through the end of this meal. Wise diners will, as they order the sole, also ask for the preparation of a soufflé for dessert, perhaps the one scented with Grand Marnier. (The unwise will ask for tarte Tatin and receive a wan example in return.)

During the winter of 1997, when La Grenouille was just 35, Ruth Reichl wrote in the restaurant’s most recent review in these pages that it was not for nothing that a parade of soufflés crosses the dining room each evening. “I don’t think there is a better soufflé in New York,” she wrote, and awarded three stars.

That is still the case. It is a magic-trick dessert, a dreamlike concoction from the night kitchen: perfection unsullied. And it stands, in its way, for the importance of La Grenouille. This is the bastion now. It is worth the expense to put on your best and experience it. It is part of why you are here.

I had the pleasure of eating at La Grenouille with my parents decades ago. I remember the gorgeous dining room, but not the food. Time to return. And see also the slide show with additional commentary from Sifton.

Categories: Restaurants

Near Miss

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

[Roland Halbe, NYT]

The current New Yorker has a piece by John Seabrook about famed architect Zaha Hadid. In the print edition are photos of her, her recently-opened MAXXI building in Rome, and the still-to-be-built Aquatics Center for the 2012 London Olympics. Additional photos can be seen as part of the accompanying audio slide show at the New Yorker website.

The MAXXI is the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, set just north of the center of Rome in the Flaminia neighborhood. It opened on November 12, a Thursday, our last full day in Europe. We had left Rome the previous Saturday, the 7th, and left Italy altogether on the night of Tuesday the 10th on the overnight train to Paris. So we missed all the excitement, just barely. Not just the opening, but the coverage as well.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the NYT architecture critic, had a review on the 12th, with yet another slide show. He wrote:

Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.

The completion of the museum is proof that this city is no longer allergic to the new and a rebuke to those who still see Rome as a catalog of architectural relics for scholars or tourists.

i wish we had known to walk over to the museum. It wasn’t far from where we stayed. Indeed, the Hotel de Russie is just two buildings south of the Piazza del Popolo, on the north side of which sits the Flaminian Gate, the northern entry to ancient Rome, with historic Via Flaminia running north from there. A 2.5 kilometer walk up the Via Flaminia and to the left would have taken us to MAXXI.

Oh, and not only that, but we just missed Hadid herself. From the New Yorker article, we learn that “Hadid arrived in Rome three days before the MAXXI’s opening ceremony, … ensconcing herself in the luxurious Hotel de Russie, just off the Piazza del Popolo.” Darn. That would have been fun.

Categories: Architecture, Travel