Wednesday, May 4, 2011

La Petite Maison -A Midtown's Mediterranean Import

13-15 West 54th Street,
The Rockefeller Townhouse

Words/Images Judith Ecochard

‘Tous Célèbres Ici”

Crossing the Pond, Nice’s acclaimed La Petit Maison restaurant opened a few months back --- presided over by experienced partners--- the French proprietress, Nicole Rubi, nightclub owner David Barakos, PLUS a bunch of restaurant pioneers from the hyped trendy Meatpacking district…and Chef Alain Alegretti at the helm.

Nowadays diners will find a polished establishment. with the sophisticated cool of the Riviera the minute one enters the airy white walled space a few steps down from the sidewalk…

Ensconced in the two lower levels of the Rockefeller Apartments…a stone’s throw, literally, from MOMA’s garden wall.

We recently went their on a Monday night, typically a slow night for dining out---but found the restaurant full, with the pleasant, relaxed buzz from patrons and a soft Afro-Euro pop soundtrack barely heard in the background.

The front of the house, took a page from its Provencal origins--- with a bar, a few oversized oranges, tomatoes and olive oil---unfussy decorations---leading right into the large dining room.

Tables, crisply dressed in white linen, are spaciously set apart for diners who want to have real conversations (yes!)...while the softly spot lit walls are lined with 60’s Warhol style paintings of the chic, one name only needed female icons of the late 20th century----Audrey, Viva, Marilyn, Twiggy…

 Note to large groups---there are many semi-private areas for parties or business outings --- in fact a dozen or so patrons were commanding one spot for a birthday celebration.

Downstairs Lounge area

Eating here is an unhurried delight…

Our evening began just right---- with professional waiters delivering a paper bag containing warm crunchy baguette slices, an oversized white china plate- quickly depleted of deliciously square slices of the “French pizza” Pissaladière--- (akin to a buttery sweet onion tarte made with olive oil) ---and two glasses of sparkling white wine--- 

The two page menu---has the classics --- and a few adult indulgences such as the truffle laden selections…easily pleasing all kinds of eaters…

Mirroring the smartly dressed mix of diners --- locals in slim fitting, pressed jeans, tourists from Europe enjoying the Euros clout, and area business types with ties modestly loosened. Not a stroller in sight.

As for the food...the Nicoise Specialties for two are perhaps the best way to begin a meal as one gets to sample all the perfectly rendered appetizers with Gallic flair…. like the seasonal crispy zucchini blossom beignets.

We ordered the Traditional Salad of Nice…a generous serving of lightly dressed, mixed baby greens, French style fresh string beans, large chunks of high quality tuna, beets, boiled eggs, and anchovies.

The other appetizer we devoured…the slim sliced Yellowtail Tuna Carpaccio with flavorful touches of jalapeno peppers, scallions, mango and lemon---reminded us why we could probably eat a portion of this every night, with a chewy slice of bread…accompanied by a bold glass of sauvignon blanc…and call it a well fed night.

But we didn’t.

Main courses beckoned---there are meat as well as lamb and pasta options, and a signature dish of Dover Sole for two ($85).

Our Grilled Salmon with braised fennel and the Grilled Lobster with clarified butter…both flawlessly cooked, fresh and moist …and sizeable portions…

And it came served with a shareable sinfully rich creamy risotto cooked just right.

Desserts offered include what one might consider the usual fare of ice cream and sorbets (including one served “Colonel Style” with vodka splashed on)….

But also a retro sounding White Chocolate Mousse…that had the exact light airy texture, suitably sweet but not cloyingly so…lined with a fresh assortment of plump berries…
...and the Chocolate Fondat… a French take on the Italian Stracciatella Gelato-(chocolate chip ice cream-ish).

Overall, the relaxed pace of our delicious meal was so welcome after a harried day (week)…we can see why after the initial opening crush…La Petite Maison manages to entice those wanting to be well fed in a refined and fun setting.

Appetizers and Salades $9-$19, Main Course $ 21-$57, Desserts $10-$12

Complete wine list featuring French southern wines