September 17, 2001 | Ask Gael

I've got a curtain call to catch on the new 42nd street

        Go retro. Rediscover the fun of Chez Josephine, Jean-Claude Baker's lively homage to his adopted mother, Josephine Baker, its bordello look newly refreshed, with crimson shades on chandeliers and memorabilia of incomparable Maman everywhere. The welcome's so warm, it feels like a homecoming, and the piano is live every night. Fridays and Saturdays, Sarah McLawler plays standing up, barefoot. Bistro standbys -- asparagus napoleon, boeuf bourguignonne, deftly cooked salmon -- are good enough. Southern fried chicken is fabulous, and le delice Josephine delivers paradise in chocolate.  

        Around the corner, Le Madeleine has been feeding theater crowds for years. Don't sulk if you can't get into Esca across the street: The bistro's gone modern under chef Bruce Beaty (whose lively flavors reflect stints with Alfred Portale, Gilbert LeCoze, and Jonathan Waxman). We feel miles from Ninth Avenue reality in the quirky all-weather garden, sharing grilled lamb sausage and splendid yellowfin tartare that's zingy from lime and ginger. The tang of ripe tomato enlivens the skate's classic brown-butter vinaigrette. Corn custard, leaf spinach, and summer-vegetable compote tag alongside braised lamb shoulder, and the rib eye comes with fabulous frites. Lemon custard seals the deal. Grab a honey madeleine and catch that curtain.

Chez Josephine, 414 West 42nd Street, 212 594 1925
Le Madeleine 403 West 43rd Street, 212 246 2993

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