405 East 52nd Street, New York NY 10022 (map); 212-755-6244 ; http://www.leperigord.com/cms/
Service: The classic Continental model
Setting: Despite looking a bit worn, the room is brightened by freshly cut roses at each table
Compare to:Le Cirque, La Grenouille
Cost: Three courses, $32
Le Perigord is remarkable in that it has remained impervious to any food trend that has surfaced in the four decades since it opened its doors. It is unrepentantly traditional, offering classic French cuisine with service to match. The room, which was last renovated at the end of the last century when the famously short ceiling was raised by several feet, seems even older than its years. All about it, the relics of formal dining abound—dessert trolleys and cold buffets, white tablecloths and grand souffles.
The duck is still carved and crisped table-side over open flames by aging waiters in once-prim white jackets. They have worked there for decades, the restaurant aging along with them—both becoming gray and somewhat battered. Longtime owner Georges Brigue will still greet you at the door, his voice now a faint whisper. One wonders if it was the Gitanes. But despite the age there are two things that remain bright and vibrant—the fresh roses on the tables and the food that comes out of the kitchen.
The room might have seen better days, but the standards on the the plate remain intact.
A creamy dollop of risotto comes surrounded by a heap of succulent scallops, redolent with garlic and butter. The little scallops burst with flavor, with the slightly al dente risotto adding a nutiness and textural contrast.
The vegetable tart is unexpectedly light and airy, despite the fact that it looks like a dense quiche and comes swimming in a butter sauce. Delicate layers of zucchini and carrot come under a burnished, cheesy canopy, the crust almost croissantlike.
A rousing rendition of beef Bourguignon, a dish that always tastes far better than it looks, is the perfect bulwark against the impending cold outside. The hearty stew comes strewn with fork tender hunks of beef, buttery potatoes and carrots larded by smoky chunks of pork belly.
Order the lamb medium rare and it will come with a crisp crust and a rosy pink center; scented with harissa, it evokes Morocco and Algeria, a nod to France's colonial past.
But be sure to save room for dessert—served from the pastry trolley, which trundles awkwardly through the dinning room, its contents teetering precariously. Chocolate mousses, berry tarts, and, of course, the floating island are all present and correct.
Here's a secret: Eat lunch on the later side, and you will be the recipient of extremely generous portioning. The freshness and lightness of the desserts indicates that they don't sit around; dinner services require the cart to be restocked so you will likely end up with several desserts on your plate.
Le Perigord really is a gem of a restaurant. While one might expect, given the rather worn nature of its confines and the elderly state of its staff and indeed clientele, that the cuisine might be a tired rendition of traditional themes, it is actually vibrant and flavorful. The execution honors the tradition of French fine dining and the restaurant's history.
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