Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dinner | La Promenade des Anglais

After hearing wonderful things about Chef Alain Allegretti's now-shuttered, eponymous flagship restaurant, Allegretti, from my fellow foodie friend (gotta love alliteration :P), Derek, I knew we had to check out Chef Allegretti's new spot, La Promenade des Anglais, in Chelsea. What's more was that I saw a deal pop up last week on Scoutmob for 50% off any meal (with a $20 maximum discount) -- definitely another motivator to go ASAP! So Marcus, Derek, Rainbow (his girlfriend), and I set off to La Promenade des Anglais earlier last.

Located in the London Terrace Gardens, a historic luxury apartment building, La Promenade des Anglais is "inspired by the French Riviera with subtle influences from various regions of Italy as well." The name is derived from the celebrated promenade along the Mediterranean in Nice, France (incidentally from where Chef Allegretti hails). Beginning around the second half of the 18th century, the English tended to spend winter holidays in Nice, enjoying the views along the coastline. It was a particularly harsh winter brought an influx of beggars to Nice, some rich Englishmen proposed a useful project for them -- the construction of a walkway along the sea. The city of Nice, intrigued by the prospect of a pleasant promenade, greatly increased the scope of the work. The Promenade was first called the Camin deis Anglés (i.e., the English Way) by the Niçois in their native dialect Nissart. After the French annexed Nice in 1860, it was rechristened La Promenade des Anglais, replacing the former Nissart name with its French translation.

Inside La Promenade des Anglais. The décor is "an ode to Chef Allegretti's southern French roots, featuring brass light fixtures and railings, smoldering antique mirros, sumptuous Mediterranean blue velour banquettes, and booths set against rich dark wood and classic black and white marble flooring."

Love the painted trompe l'oeil black-and-white striped umbrellas on the restaurant's ceiling -- gives that style of vintage advertisement posters/bills, redolent of the many umbrellas lined up on the coast in Nice during prime season.

Another view of the interiors. Each table has a little orange tree on the side.

Some more views on lighting and the ceiling.

Before starting his own restaurants (Allegretti, and now La Promenade), Chef Allegretti has worked in kitchens across France and the United States. As such, his cooking style has cultural influences from both countries. He was the executive chef at Atelier at New York's Ritz-Carlton Hotel as well as co-executive chef at Le Cirque. He has also worked at Restaurant Le Chantecler, Chez Chapel in Mionnay, and Restaurant Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo. Here at La Promenade des Anglais, as mentioned before, features cuisine inspired by the French Riviera (with subtle influences from various regions of Italy as well), "bringing the glamour, the romance, and the food of the French Riviera" to New York City.

Derek and I both started off with a glass of wine each -- his a 2007 syrah from the Crozes-Hermitage appellation (of the famous Rhône Valley) in France produced by Guigal; mine a 2007 tempranillo (more specifically, a crianza) from El Rioja in Spain, produced by El Coto. Derek is a huge proponent of wines produced in the Rhône Valley -- it's his designated go-to, so it was a nice choice, as usual. Mine was very good as well -- just tannic enough to blend well with the meal ahead. I liked that our wine came with a small decanter so our pours would open up as the meal wore on.

So for starters/appetizers, we decided to do it family-style, so that the four of us could try more things. We got most of these as recommendations from our waiter.

Our first selection was a octopus à la Plancha (i.e., grilled octopus) with chickpea salad, chorizo, and arugula. The octopus consisted of its tentacles, sliced crosswise, with its suction cups nicely charred from the grill. With a chewy consistency paired with the nutty yet buttery texture of the chickpeas, the octopus made for a delicious "salad-like" starter. Not sure I recall the taste of chorizo in there, but still good overall.

Along with the octopus, we had the vitello tonnato (Italian for "veal with tuna sauce"), which were sweetbreads served with Blue Fin tuna and Romaine hearts. I think this was my favorite appetizer -- texture-wise, the sweetbreads had a velvety exterior and a silky interior, while their taste was mild, brought out by the seared preparation. The Blue Fin tuna tartare gave the sweetbreads a more balanced composition, from a course/dish perspective, with a grainier, yet still smooth, texture and refreshing taste and flavor. Two savory things -- offal and sashimi flesh -- were fittingly united by Chef Allegretti here.

Due to Derek's strong affinity for prosciutto (and all things cured, especially in the pork family), we had to get the prosciutto and clam croquettes with Espelette chili (i.e., a French pepper, originating in Basque cuisine) oil. They arrived to our table piping hot, so be careful! The inside of the croquette was comprised of bits of prosciutto (crispy and salty -- very bacon-like) and puréed clams (with an almost creamy consistency), all enclosed with a fried exterior. The texture and taste of the croquettes' filling was what surprised me most -- I hadn't realized there was clam inside of it alongside the prosciutto! I thought it was a "one-ham-show" starring prosciutto, so the shock of the bivalve sneaking up on me like that was a pleasant surprise! Fried to perfection, these little croquettes are incredibly addictive.

Last of our starters was the Perugina sausage with sweet pepper and onion ragoût topped with crispy panisses (i.e., fried chickpea flour patties) -- shortly followed by a bold exclamation by Derek saying, "Wow, these should be served as my breakfast everyday!" The sausages themselves carried their own weight in terms of flavor with an aromatic blend of spices and hearty meatiness for the winter season. The sweet pepper and onion ragoût only enhanced this even more with the addition of sweet crunchiness from the vegetables. What I learned from some brief research is that this is a classic Niçoise dish -- fitting to the restaurant's strong roots in Nice and its cuisine.

As for the upcoming main courses, we each ordered one different from each other, and while we mostly ate ours, we definitely stole bites from each person's dish to get a better idea, overall, of La Promenade des Anglais and its menu.

I had the Arctic char with duck fat potatoes, endive marmalade, and pomegranate citrus roti jus (roti jus is French for "gravy"), which wasn't poured until it was brought to our table. I am usually very wary about ordering salmon dishes (or in this case, fish from the salmon family) because, for the most part, they tend to be overcooked at my standards (I like it slightly pink in the middle so that it's not at all overcooked but not raw either), but I decided to just go for it -- if Chef Allegretti knows how to prepare salmon/arctic char to the right temperature, yielding the ideal texture and taste, then most likely the fish offered on the menu will be handled in the same regard. So relieved to find out, upon first sampling of the arctic char, that this was indeed true! The skin was really crispy, while the meat of the arctic char was soft, flaky, and buttery. The pomegranate citrus roti jus gave a lovely tart overlay to the fish, making for a light yet satisfyingly filling main course. The duck fat potatoes were just okay for me, as they were not as crisp/crunchy as I had originally hoped. The flavor of the duck fat in which it was prepared was evident, but they definitely could have been cooked a little darker.

Rainbow had the striped bass with braised leeks, fondant potatoes, breaded mussels, and truffle leek bouillon. The striped bass, as with the arctic char, had a very silky, soft texture, where each flake poured out a gradient of flavor with each bite. The vegetables served alongside the striped bass were braised well. Rainbow enjoyed this overall, so I assume the other accoutrement were great, too!

Marcus had the lamb osso buco, braised with citrus, creamy polenta, and seasonal vegetable grain. The lamb shank may look small in the photograph, but it was very filling and heavy (in good ways, of course). The meat just fell right off the bone, boasting the softest result of braising. The sauce was very rich, enveloping the lamb osso buco with the flavor of winter stew and complementing the creamy polenta right beneath it.

And yup, Marcus is arguably the best boyfriend ever. He always lets me snatch his piece of bone marrow, mostly because he doesn't like the texture, not understanding why people go crazy over it (though, I'd like to think it's because he just loves me that much :P). That's okay -- it just means more for me and for any bone marrow lovers at our table!

I've only had the bone marrow (served in bone) from osso buco (i.e., veal shanks), so having the bone marrow from a lamb shank was a little different in taste. Texture remained the same, but the taste was definitely gamier than I'm used to. Nevertheless, still awesome bone marrow -- I got every little bit out, as best I could :P!

And last, but not least -- Derek went with the farrotto with braised veal cheeks and spinach. This was the superstar course of our dinner that night -- Derek certainly chose wisely! I've had a taste of farrotto before at Rouge Tomate, and I remember it had a fun, grainy texture (almost like barley) to it. I really like having that extra dimension (like with brown rice), as it seems to add another attribute to an already stellar dish. Farrotto is essentially farro (a small, light brown grain) prepared in the same way as a traditional risotto (normally using arborio rice), whereby the farro will slowly absorb the cooking liquid (stock, herbs, etc.). Here, the farro was al dente with a playful chewiness to follow each bite and a beautifully paired sauce in which the veal cheeks were braised. Usually, I find meat driven pasta dishes to be quite oversalted, but that was not the case here. The veal cheeks were so velvety and soft that once it reached the inside of your mouth, the flavor spreads out and the piece withers away into a euphoric oblivion. It took lots of self control not to swipe every little morsel from Derek's plate. If you make it to La Promenade des Anglais, this MUST be ordered. No buts!

When we finally reached dessert, we decided to only get three different ones to share (I stayed out of this one) because we could feel we were getting so full already.

Derek chose the grapefruit tart with "Meringuee" (slightly torched on top) and fresh blood orange. Though it took a few tries to break up the tart's crust, we found it to be a very citrus-driven and refreshing dessert. The crust, even though it was hard to break through at first, was very delectable with the tart's citrus-savvy filling and the fresh blood orange slices on the side. However, for me, there were some instances where the meringue was a little bit too sour/tart for my liking.

Rainbow ordered the warm chocolate fondant with stracciatella (i.e., vanilla base with chocolate shavings mixed in) gelato. Overall, this dessert was very rich and very chocolatey -- the bittersweet kind of chocolatey. You dark chocolate lovers out there love the richness of the cake matched with the creamy gelato. Even though I enjoyed the warm chocolate fondant dessert, it wasn't necessarily anything out of the ordinary that you may have seen on a fine dining establishment's dessert menu -- just your token chocolate cake dessert with a happy edition of stracciatella gelato (maybe that's the tiny twist on the typical dessert!).

Marcus requested for the Guanaja chocolate mousse with salted caramel and marshmallow, which was also very rich and sweet. While the mousse was light, the taste of chocolate was heavy on the palate. The marshmallow was plated nicely on top of the dessert in the glass,but was a bit too stiff to be evenly eaten along with each spoonful of mousse.

Findings: I would say that the four of us were quite impressed with La Promenade des Anglais -- moreso the appetizers and main courses than the desserts though. You could certainly notice the choice of tastes and flavors inspired by Niçoise cuisine and the French Riviera, the home city of Chef Alain Allegretti. I liked the swanky interior and the posh atmosphere that wasn't too over the top. Smart casual for both dress and cuisine, and it was just our taste. The restaurant's scene is on the energetic side, so if you're hoping to catch up via conversation as a party of four, that may be difficult. A more intimate party of two, possibly seated at the bar, may be better. So what La Promenade des Anglais may be overcompensating in musical ambiance, it makes up for, amazingly so, with the menu. That farrotto and vitello tonnato were just stellar -- my absolute favorites of the entire meal. Everything else was done very well, too, so whatever strikes your fancy on the menu will most likely do so. I really liked that each of the courses we ordered were quite distinct from one another -- very "original" and well composed. All in all, this is a great place to go for drinks and plates (appetizer-sized or main course-sized) to share.

Price point: $12-18 for each appetizer/for the table dish, $22-30 for each main course, $10 for each dessert, $12-17 for each glass of red wine.

--December 21, 2011

La Promenade des Anglais

461 West 23rd Street

La Promenade des Anglais deal is still available
here until 6/14/2012!

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