November 7, 2011 | BITE: My Journal

La Promenade des Anglais: Nice Enough Nice (CLOSED)

Crème Design gives Allegretti a lively look, witty too once you get it. Photo: Steven Richter
Crème Design gives Allegretti a lively look, witty too once you get it. Photo: Steven Richter

       I’d like to say that I am immediately transported to Nice as I enter the door of La Promenade des Anglais. But I’m not. Not that it doesn’t look great, thanks to Crème Design of Brooklyn: the spiffy collage of graphics on the ceiling, bold shaded lights with their perforated shades, checkerboard floor and slightly rumpled blue velvet banquettes.  I’ve been to Nice uncounted times but I’m so dense I don’t understand the pebbles on the patchwork ceiling - not even after sipping most of a nicely balanced $14 Jack Rose cocktail - till I read a press release next day. It’s the rocky Riviera beach you refused to walk on, idiot.

Locals are finding their spot at the bar with its own all-day menu. Photo: Steven Richter

       I can’t even say anything I’m tasting tonight brings me back to Nice, or Chantecler, where chef-owner Alain Allegretti teethed under Michelin-starred Jacques Maximin, and nothing evokes his time breathing the same air as Alain Ducasse at Louis XV.  An early Ducasse thrill - three stuffed rigatoni naked and unaccessorized on a plate - would be too boldly stark La Promenade.

Kale and red cabbage salad with duck prosciutto and a dozen other things. Photo: Steven Richter.

       That’s not totally a gripe. I like most of what we’re eating tonight, even though some of his efforts to be different are exhausting and over-salted, and somewhat over-priced for my idea of everyday dinner. After whatever happened to close his own Allegretti on 22nd Street in 2008, you can’t say he’s repeating himself. The menu here is full of intriguing twists on Riviera classics. It’s so difficult to choose, I want everything. And the room vibrates with energy, as if a smart, demanding Chelsea crowd was just waiting for Chef Allegretti to revive the space that was Bette in the London Terrace on 23rd Street. They tumble off the High Line, or whirl through galleries en route, eager to taste his variation on vitello tonnato made with sweetbreads and bluefin sashimi.

A bit greasy but deliciously greasy: squash blossom beignets. Photo: Steven Richter

       It’s one of those menus that tempts you to spend more than you realize. How about whipped ricotta with honey and grilled country bread “For the Table” while you’re waiting for starters and entrees, $19 to $30? (There’s a bar menu too.)  I can’t resist the zucchini flower beignet (singular? to share?) envisioning a stuffed flower. These are flattened leaves, battered and fried, I won’t say immaculately fried – greasily fried, greasily delicious, with a small clot of tomato sauce. I’d be happier with a garlicky aioli. And of course, I rarely see a Brussels sprouts side I can resist, tonight with bacon. Add $8 to the toll.

A gathering of fall’s root vegetables and asparagus leftover from spring. Photo: Steven Richter

       Is the chef original or what? Kale and red cabbage salad layered in a bowl with duck prosciutto, pomegranate, shaved mushrooms, cheese and candied walnuts. Almost too sweet but wonderfully fresh and it isn’t too salty, like the Autumn Cassoulet, a sophisticated gathering from the market: Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, white and green asparagus and black truffle jus. Aggressively salted.  Lush veal tartare oiled with salsa verde and whole grain mustard. I pile it on crispy flatbread and cannot finish. My mouth is on fire from the salt.

I could make a dinner of these duck fat potatoes with the Arctic char. Photo: Steven Richter

       Our waiter seems to suffer from an inability to keep a professional distance. When he leans in, I feel he’s about to jump into my lap.  When he asks how we like everything, as he does only twice too often, we mention the salt – partly to get rid of him. Entrees then arrive judiciously seasoned. The Arctic char is almost rare enough and comes with many props: marvelous duck fat potatoes, endive marmalade and deviled tomato sauce. Juicy, tender pork loin wears a quilt of espelette-spiked crumb topping. Tattooed with thin discs of chorizo, the roasted fingerlings and cippolinis alongside could be a meal all by themselves, with a cherry mostarda thrown in for je ne sais quoi

I’ve tasted great trofie pasta lately but not here. Photo: Steven Richter

       Tight little spindles of pasta tossed with heirloom tomato, capers, olives, lemon and tuna are not my idea of trofie, but give my guy Steven capers, olives, lemon and tomatoes on most any noodle and he’s happy. He doesn’t even mind a few cubes of tuna belly. But whoever threw pomegranate seeds on the plate at the last minute needs a tranquilizer.

A poached apple tart comes topped with ricotta almond gelato. Photo: Steven Richter

       There’s nothing wrong with what seems to be half a poached apple set into a tart shell or the ricotta almond gelato on top. For me, one bite is enough. I’ll try the coffee pot de crème next time. I’m sure I’ll be back if only to taste lavender goat cheese and pancetta-paella risotto cake and maybe sneak another peak at Allegretti, Adonis in an apron. 

Chef Allegretti invents espalette-spiked pork crumble. Photo Steven Richter

       It’s an ambitious time for restaurants. Many dozens are promised this winter and next spring. A shocking number will close before the tables get scarred.  The trick these days is to get a reasonably youngish crowd to pay your slightly elevated prices, says my restaurant consultant friend who has stopped by for a whiskey nightcap. The right buzz will draw nocturnal lemmings anywhere and the locals might follow - hopefully.  “You want the consistency when they come back. They are professional restaurateurs here,” he observes. A veteran like Antonello Paganuzzi, representing the partners from LDV Hospitality at the door, he notes, is worth more than a quartet of dimpling beauties who don’t know exactly what they’re doing but look so cute not doing it.

461 West 23rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. 212 255 7400. Open all day Monday through Thursday  11:45  to 11 pm. Friday till midnight. Saturday from 11 am to midnight. Sunday 11 am to 11 pm.


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