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La Grenouille

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

[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.

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