LA GRENOUILLE – NYC
3 East 52 Street New York, NY 10022
Date Dined: December 2013
Restaurant Website: www.la-grenouille.com
On my mother’s 16th birthday (sometime in the 1970’s) she arose from her table in the main dining room of La Grenouille and boldly crossed the room headed for the big round table in the center. “S’il vous plaît, maitre,” – she handed her menu to the man with the eccentric curly mustache and slicked back hair. He snatched the menu out of her hand and stabbed it with his quill pen…then released his grip and elegantly scribbled his name “Salvador Dalí”. This is the first memory I have of hearing about La Grenouille.
My mother has always been a huge fan of the restaurant not just because she grew up with the current owner, Charles Masson- who succeeded his father in running their family restaurant, from going through the French school here in the city, but because it is a truly special place. It is the kind of restaurant that feels both elegant and comfortable at the same time. It is refined and yet eludes the feeling of stuffiness that many “fancy” restaurants can have. Mr. Masson spends every night at the restaurant greeting and chatting with his loyal patrons that come back to enjoy the food and the company time and time again. This is probably one of main reasons that the restaurant has outlived all of its counterparts in the realm of haute French cuisine and was able to celebrate its 50th birthday last year.
I begged my parents to allow me to have my 21st birthday there with a few of my close friends, which was an incredibly memorable experience to say the least. Just a few weeks ago I asked them if we could have our annual holiday family dinner there and the experience is as wonderful as ever.
My family walked into the restaurant on December 19th, exactly 51 years after the opening in 1962. The warm glow of the room envelopes you and it feels like you are entering someone’s living room. The walls are lined with beautiful paintings, some done by Charles himself and also his son. He also takes full responsibility of the restaurants signature enormous floral arrangements that tower to the ceiling. In typical French fashion, the tables are quite close together but it is comfortable without feeling cramped. The incredibly attentive wait staff are there the moment you would like something without being the least bit overbearing.
We were seated at a table in the center of the room facing out which was optimal for admiring the bustling activity. The menu has a few options including a prix fixe but we couldn’t decide because literally everything looks (and tastes) incredible. The restaurant very graciously allowed us to have a taste of a few extra dishes.
To get started with our fresh bread and mini cheese puffs, we had a small amuse bouche of a squash soup.
Next was a small portion of Quenelles De Brochet “Lyonnaise” topped with caviar. If you follow my blog regularly, you know what a fan I am of quenelles. This particular interpretation is more refined and has a very subtle flavor of the pike fish and seasoned by saltiness of the caviar. The texture is a pillowy and light. The plating is very simple – served on a black plate the white soufflé with its white sauce and rice stand out with the beads of black caviar as a garnish.
Next was another one of my favorite dishes – seared fois gras. We had a smaller portion which was perfect because of all the other rich items we were being served. The fois was cooked to perfection – still pink on the inside yet warm all the way through. Quince was an ideal seasonal accompaniment to add a fruity accent and cut the richness.
As my entrée I had the frogs legs prepared Provençal style – lightly breaded and crispy on the outside and bathed in a heavenly buttery, garlicky sauce. If you have never had frogs legs this is the place to try them. Each little leg is tender and juicy and literally melts in your mouth. On the side is a bit of braised tomato and a few small potatoes, which are also excellent in the sauce.
We could not pass up a cheese course after hearing how the special of the day was prepared. Several wheels of brie were sliced in half, lined with fine slices of black truffle and then wrapped and let to smoke overnight on the embers of the fire from the upstairs hearth. This is not only very romantic for a holiday but the product was very delicious. The cheese was paired with some spiced walnuts and a hearty, rustic bread.
Throughout the meal we were served delicious wine pairings – a light sauvignon blanc from the Loire with the quenelles, a sweet quarts de chaume (chenin blanc) with our fois gras among others and, of course, champagne with dessert.
La Grenouille makes the single best soufflé I have had (and I’ve had quite a few!). The Grand Marnier version in particular is the lightest, airiest cloud of sugar and egg one could imagine. The crème anglaise adds a bit of creaminess.
As you can tell, I may be slightly biased in this review but I will also say that La Grenouille really does have some of the very best food in the city. Needless to say, it is on my EPIC Picks list. I would recommend La Grenouille to anyone looking for a special experience on any day of the week at any time of year. I promise you will not be disappointed.