Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old School French Still an Experience - La Grenouille

Restaurant Name: La Grenouille
Location: 3. E. 52nd Street, New York City

For a recent special occasion (this blogger's birthday!), my husband and I decided to make a night of it at one of New York's venerable old French restaurants, La Grenouille. And let me tell you, this place is worth the experience - if only just one time.

La Grenouille is opulent in an Old World, Old School sort of way. Lush red banquettes line the walls; massive, towering, trailing gorgeous bouquets stand sentry; and hovering, suited waiters (a veritable army for each table) hop at the slightest sign you might need them (literally, glancing accidentally in their direction brings them running). Everything is bright, and fine, and beautiful.

Oh, and the other diners...let me just say that La Grenouille offers a fabulous people-watching experience! My husband and I were easily the only people under the age of 40 in the entire restaurant who were not the guests of carefully-coiffed parents or grandparents. I felt as though we had wandered into a strange alternate universe where the recession was simply one of those silly things that needn't trouble anyone.

For all these things (including, among others, the tiny mirrored bathroom - there were even mirrors on the ceiling), La Grenouille is an experience worth having only once. The food, while well-prepared, fresh, and flavorful, is not enough to warrant a return visit at the current prices, which are steep for what you get.

Offering an extensive a la carte menu, La Grenouille also allows diners to select three courses for a fixed price of $90 (some selections require a hefty supplement, though). The menu is just what one would expect (and demand, in fact) from this type of restaurant - classic dishes from a bygone era of French cuisine. There are fried sweetbreads (good but almost too much richness), Lobster bisque (fabulous flavor but a thin-ish broth that might have benefitted from being a bit more robust), blinis with caviar, escargot, and so on. Main courses included things like Chateaubriand and rack of lamb. All the meats were very simply prepared and served with almost garnish-like sides (definitely less thought and effort seemed to have gone into the sides than into the well-seasoned meats). Desserts were equally traditional - tarte tatin, for example, and Gran Marnier Souffle (which was so massive and towering that it would have been nigh on impossible for a single person to finish one themselves....yet, they had an even bigger version "for 2"). As this last implies, portions here were generous and my request for a take-home bag was not sneered at.

In all, I would say that even though I came full-well expecting incredibly traditional versions of French cuisine, I left every-so-slightly disappointed that the dishes weren't more innovative or interesting. While I think there is always room for greatness in classic preparations, restaurants like La Grenouille should be careful not to become complacent and bored with their own traditional creations. Therefore, while the food was all quite good, it lacked the kind of spark of interest that would propel it to greatness. Happily, the over-the-top ambiance of the place more than compensated for any shortcomings in the kitchen.

La Grenouille on Urbanspoon


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Anonymous said...

I have been to La Grenouille several times and I completely disagree with your little critiques.
That restaurant is flawless! The pricepoints are BEYOND reasonable, considering one is getting the finest quality in food and the best service.
I have been to sushi restaurants that cost me more than La Grenouille, and their napkins weren't made of Egyptian cotton, their walls weren't made of silk, and they certainly did not have the most impressive flowers. I can use the same argument for The Four Seasons, and hundreds of other restaurants in NY.
La Grenouille is more than an experience, it's what dining should be. It's so refreshing to find food the way it was meant to be prepared. No silly garnishes, so ridiculous sauce combinations, etc.
Shows like Top Chef (which I assume you watch), ruin people's ideas of what food is supposed to be. Thank God that at La Grenouille they don't go overboard with their food!
It's one of the few remaining restaurants where one can have a very healthy, organic and traditional meal. As you said in your blog, one can only go once, and that is because SOME people don't deserve to go twice!