March 5, 2012

La Grenouille- Food Amongst the Flowers

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3 East 52nd Street (off 5th Ave)
212-752-1495
www.la-grenouille.com

Excellent. You'll consume more than your skinny jeans will allow.

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The restaurant is in the 50’s, has been popular since the 80’s, and the average age of the diners is about 70, so that is the basic math of La Grenouille.

As I sit to write this, I am amazed at the dichotomy of La Grenouille. It is an extremely  special place with an  old-school format, but it is still completely approachable. The servers are all in tuxes, and there are a ton of forks on the table, but it is not exactly a slow, truly fine dining experience. This is a good thing.  The menu is  authentic French, and I was under the impression that dinner would be a long, drawn out affair, with lots of amuses and napkin changes. You can thank the number of regulars who count on La Grenouille for keeping it from being stuffy and slow. Such a fancy and delicate place could truly seem intimidating, but even though the staff is dressed up, they are wearing no airs; everyone is friendly and helpful.

My first visit was when my friend’s parents were treating a bunch of girls to a fancy meal in honor of her 30th birthday;  it was clear that that such a group of young whippernsappers is a sight rarely seen at La Grenouille on a Saturday night. The host literally said “look at all of these pretty girls coming in at the same time”- I realize that night not be critical to the narrative of the evening, but it is a telling anecdote, and I love to hear it. We actually had to wait for our table for a full half hour, 20 minutes of which was taken up by its previous occupants trying to move themselves through the dining room.  We waited at the bar and dug into the bowl of potato chips that were on offer. ( A note on that:  on a recent visit, the bartender informed us that the potato chips were no longer available, thanks to a cracking down on something from Mayor Bloomberg. I am not sure what potatoes ever did to him, but they are missed.)  Walking to our table, we were greeted by more stares from men and women who could follow us with their gazes, if not move any of their facial muscles. The menu is very classic French, with quenelles and all, and so is the service. The food was classic as well, full of rich buttery tastes that the French feel no guilt about. This was especially evident in the lobster ravioli, that were enveloped in a lemon butter sauce that was truly divine. I don’t know why I ordered the mushroom risotto, a dish that is NOT French, and for that I was left with a dish that was slightly lacking in flavor and density. The sweetbread special was properly crispy on the outside, greatly improving the texture and overall appeal of the dish.

My most favorite fish is Dover Sole (not just because it is fancy!), and it was very special at La Grenouille; the sauce was decadently thick and buttery, and the haricot vert were crisp and perfect. The dish managed to be light and rich at the same time. For dessert, there were souffles all around, filled with flavor and throwbacks to the ’80’s. Just about everyone in that restaurant definitely remembered the ’80’s, if not their ’80’s.

It should be noted that the setting at La Grenouille is absolutely beautiful, with extravagant but elegant flower displays and warm glow lighting. A more casual but no less special experience can be had by dining at the bar for lunch. Their Thursday lunch veal special has a devoted following, and I am dying for the day that I can return on a Saturday to try the Beef Bourgonone.  The staffing at La Grenouille is also a wonder- about 15 people on the floor for lunch service…ideally, even with the older clientele, they are the ONLY ones on the floor of La Grenouille…

pants at a glance

  • scene: Beautifully lit, and full of the most gorgeous floral arrangements, the place oozes "special occasion", but nicely lacks any extreme stuffiness or opulence
  • sip: Champers, wine
  • savor: cheese puffs; endive salad; lobster ravioli; dover sole; souffle
  • sit: With anyone you know over the age of 70; with a date; with your family and your boyfriend's family
  • stilettos: Yes, everyone here is dressed up, whether it is a special occasion or just their Friday night spot...during lunch two girls were seated in track suits, and many regulars were rightly appalled...
  • spend: $$$$
  • address: 3 East 52nd Street (off 5th Ave)
  • phone number: 212-752-1495
  • website: www.la-grenouille.com

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