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La Grenouille

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From a recent dinner at la Grenouille. The photos and more can be found on my blog: http://ulteriorepicure.com/2010/05/23...

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The food is good, but not amazing. The service is good, but not amazing. The interior is nice, but not amazing.

Indeed, there’s nothing amazing about la Grenouille except for what it is as a whole: a well-preserved ritual of a bygone vintage of New York society.

Everything but the prices, which seem to have not only kept up, but surpassed inflation, feels dated. (The prix fixe clocks in at $75 for two courses, $95 if you want dessert. Supplements are sprinkled throughout.

)

And, were people smaller back then? Or could I really have rubbed elbows with Jackie O. sitting at the table next to hers?

A meaty pâté, with a ribbon of foie gras and truffles running through it, was one of the best dishes we had (“La Terrine de Campagne“). That pâté came aside a tuft of greens crowned with a quenelle of foie gras.

The other one was a whole Dover sole, burnished and beautiful (“La Sole Grillée, Sauce Moutarde“). The fish was presented bone-in on a silver platter. Had there been more space between the tables in the dining room, they probably would have finished the plating table-side. Instead, they removed the fish for filleting and plating at a nearby station.

The restaurant’s namesake dish, “Les Cuisses de Grenouilles Provençale,” was also presented table-side on a silver platter. (n.4) Its thick, garlicky aroma hit us like a ton of bricks. The legs – more than a dozen of them – were a little tough, but otherwise flavorful, cooked à la meunière with loads of butter and herbs. The highlight of this dish for me were the spooned mounds of tomato concasse and crushed fingerling potatoes that book-ended the legs and earned the dish its Provençale provenance.

Most of our food was good but unremarkable. (n.5) Nothing, save the dense and somewhat dry lobster ravioli, was disappointing (“Les Ravioles de Homard à l’Estragon“).

Houston’s lamb was tender, with a deliciously musky body (“Les Côtelettes d’Agneau au Romarin et Petits Pois“). Three gnocchi might have been a bit stingy, but the more attractive half of this dish was the tumble of fresh English peas anyway. Sturdy and sweet, they were truly wonderful.

Nuggets of sweetbreads sported a nice, breaded crust, but played second fiddle to a fantastic sunchoke puree (“Les Ris de Veau au Romarin“). Despite the sprigs of rosemary that garnished the plate, there was very little rosemary scent.

A steady diet of la Grenouille’s “Rognons de Veau Moutardier Flambé Grande Fine” might actually kill you. But, as an occasional indulgence, this now-rare classic was quite flavorful. Flambé with cognac, the escalopes of veal kidney were smothered in a creamy mustard sauce and served with side of nutty rice. I mourned over the tough, dry side cuts that seemed to plague the otherwise tender slices from the center of the kidney. Hit and miss, one had to choose one’s bites carefully.

We all wanted soufflé. And we were each going to order a medium-sized one until I did a little math. (n.6) I pointed out that we could save quite a bit of money AND see more of the dessert menu if one of us were to order an extra large soufflé and share.

Beautifully baked and billowing, our “Grand Marnier Soufflé” arrived table-side, a golden cloud rising from a large casserole.

Each of us got a quarter wedge of the soufflé, garnished not with a pool of crème anglaise as I expected, but simply with a dollop of softly whipped cream. The soufflé had a balanced texture and flavor (fluffy, but not too fluffy, eggy, but not too eggy) but was much less boozy than I had hoped.

The rest of the desserts at la Grenouille probably don’t get much respect, given that the soufflés see so much traffic.

But from “La Voiture d’Entremets” (the “dessert trolley,” which is permanently parked at the front of the dining room, the aisles too narrow to navigate), we managed to pluck a lovely “Tangerine and Chocolate Tart (think milk chocolate pudding in a tart shell topped with tangerine wedges) and a decadent “Butterscotch Eclair” piped with an airy butterscotch mousse. Though excellent, it became cloyingly sweet after a couple of bites.

There was also a rich “Chocolate Dome” ringed with raspberry sauce. You’ve probably seen its less-good cousin at the end of a hotel-catered dinner.

I ordered the “Tarte au Pomme” because I like tartes aux pommes, and because I like warm desserts that are served à la mode. This one was very good, no better or worse than the soufflé or the chocolate tart, or the eclair for that matter.

Like I said, the service here was good, but not amazing. The staff members all look like they could have started at the restaurant when it opened. And like anything that’s been well-aged on one track, they’ve developed loads of character and, if you can appreciate it, a unique brand of charm.

Of course, I have no idea if it has or not, but the interior also doesn’t look like it has changed much since the sixties. And by that, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s ugly by any means. I think it’s elegant, even if it has a touch of frump.

The dining room is lined with mirrors, ensuring that even the most ill-positioned diner can celeb spot. And, the room is falling over itself with floral arrangements – sprays of cherry blossoms and bouquets of doe-eyed peonies and roses – a signature feature that diners have come to expect.

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La Grenouille
3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

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  1. Thanks for your report. If I make ask, what were the service flaws? Thanks.

    12 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      @ MMRuth: No specific "incidents" to report. Simply, the service here can be a bit gruff, a bit slap-dash. I constantly felt like we were detaining our server from more urgent, more important duties. They hang "yes, madame," and "yes, sir" a little too loosely on their lip - not to be purposely insincere, but rather as a matter of habit. I think it's a result of knowing your job a little too well - you lose the personality, the soul, and it becomes purely rote.

      1. re: ulterior epicure

        But there are very experienced servers in many restaurants who have not lost any "soul." (not that I agree with you about La Grenouille service - I don't - I find the gentlemen there utterly charming)

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        La Grenouille
        3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

        1. re: gutsofsteel

          Yes, that has been my experience as well, which is why I inquired. I don't particularly want personality or soul out of a server, but have always had excellent to charming service.

          1. re: MMRuth

            i agree. I am not interested in the personality of my server. I also don't want him/her to tell me his/her name, nor do I need "approval" of what I select. ("Good choice" or "I love that one")

          2. re: gutsofsteel

            @gutsofsteel and MMRuth. I'm glad you see it differently. I wish I could. But please note that I wrote:

            "Like I said, the service here was good, but not amazing. The staff members all look like they could have started at the restaurant when it opened. And like anything that’s been well-aged on one track, they’ve developed loads of character and, if you can appreciate it, a unique brand of charm."

            1. re: ulterior epicure

              I actually did notice one little service faux pas. When providing utensils for one of the courses, the young man charged with that task seemed at sixes and sevens as to which utensils needed to be set down. After making a few changes back and forth, he finally got it right.

              Overall, I've been very pleased with the service both times we've been to La Grenouille. Our first time last year, I thought we might be in for some snootiness but, happily, not a whiff of it. Both times, treatment from foh personel and staff table-side has been cordial. Service is not as as polished as one receives at Per Se, Jean Georges, EMP, and Le Bernardin. (Don't get me started about Daniel...) But I think it's quite fine.

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              Per Se
              10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

              Jean Georges
              1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

              Le Bernardin
              155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

              La Grenouille
              3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

              1. re: ulterior epicure

                Sounds a wee bit like their age disturbs you.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  @ gutsofsteel: Who? Me, or RGR?

                  Yes, I had forgotten about the silverware mishap, which goes to show how much it bothered me.

                  1. re: gutsofsteel

                    gos,

                    I'm sure u.e. will speak for himself. However, I don't see where you got the impression from his description -- "loads of character...a unique brand of charm" -- that the age of the staff disturbed him. I find those statements complimentary. Furthermore, knowing him as I do, I can say with confidence that there is not an ageist bone in his body.

                    1. re: RGR

                      "The staff members all look like they could have started at the restaurant when it opened."

                      1. re: gutsofsteel

                        @ gutsofsteel: Right, right, fair point. But that statement could also be read objectively to mean that the servers literally look like they've worked at la Grenouille since the beginning. They're very familiar with the operation. Their age was the least of my concerns. Sorry if I came across as ageist; that was not my intention.

                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                          I think it's u.e.'s colorful way of saying that La Grenouille isn't staffed with out-of-work actors waiting for their next gig. I don't see how you deduced from that that the staff's mature age "disturbed" him?