The Art of the Lunch Deal: La Grenouille
3 East 52nd Street, New York NY 10022; map); 212-752-1495; la-grenouille.com
Service:As good as it gets
Setting: Flowers at every table, all soft pastel colors, like dining in an impressionist painting
Compare to: Le Perigord, Le Cirque
Cost: Two courses, $40; Three courses, $55
There is no restaurant in New York more civilized than La Grenouille. Now in its second generation of family ownership—Charles Masson took over from his father (of the same name) in the mid-1970's—this bastion of classic French cuisine has been around since 1962. It is one of the city's true gems, and a restaurant whose principle currency remains the cooking itself, rather than nostalgia or the patronage of city's elite.
The service is of the timeless continental model, what you might expect to find on the Orient Express—a pleasant respite for those tired of having plates of food thrown at them by T-shirt-clad youths in cramped downtown restaurants, no matter how good the food. La Grenouille offers grand dining, with a deliberate and methodical pacing. And it is expensive: at dinner, a three-course meal will cost you almost $100. But at lunch you can enjoy a similar offering for half that, and even less if you skip dessert.
Les Ris de Veau au Romarinis masterful rendition of sweetbreads, redolent with rosemary the spongy morsels absorbing the jus served alongside, the sweetness matched by the sourness of the parsnip puree and crisps that share the plate.
The endive salad comes stocked with nuggets of Roquefort cheese and slivers of pears, the plate sprinkled with walnuts. It is a salad as classic as the restaurant, and it is fitting that the execution is flawless.
The frogs' legs (Les Cuisses de Grenouilles Sautées Provençale, $12.50 supplement) come perfectly prepared with a crisp, golden crust that gives way to the tender meat, laced with garlic and parsley. Alongside come perfect ellipsoids of boiled potatoes.
Succulent and tender medallions of calf's liver, the cut's gamier impulses tamed by a crisp charring and resulting caramelization, comes served on a pillow of spinach with a tangle of onion dotted with dates and raisins. A syrupy reduction adds sweetness to the earthy liver.
I skipped dessert but a bountiful collection of classics await you should you opt for the three course lunch.
As is customary a plate of candied nuts and selection of petits fours to end the meal.