December 9, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

Retail Royalty: Rotisserie Georgette

Georgette’s “Poule de Luxe” has wild mushroom stuffing tucked under its breast skin.

          I didn’t hint at my disappointment after a first early dinner at Rotisserie Georgette. Not fair. Rushing to judgment with the nightlife lemmings can be exciting, but once the glow of scoring the impossible table sputters, a seasoned first-nighter will give the house time. 

          Think of the pedigree here, after all. For Georgette: Harvard Scholar, Retail Princess, nearly twenty years as the marketing right hand of Daniel Boulud. In the kitchen, Daniel’s one-time banquet chef, David Malbequi. Wine list curated by one time Daniel sommelier Jean Luc-Le Dû.

Chef David Malbequi has found his mojo at the rotisseries in the open kitchen.

          Still, when I first heard Georgette Farkas was scouting for an Upper East Side stage to open a rotisserie, it took a while to digest this new turn in her career. What I didn’t know was that Georgette had first worked for Boulud as a pastry chef. What I had not realized was that from Harvard, she headed directly to the École Hôtelière de Lausanne. And then did stages at Roger Verge’s Moulin de Mougins and Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV. She had long ago abandoned chef whites for New York Woman in Black chic.

The house tries to stagger the press of friends and family demanding tables.

          Given the charismatic Boulud’s dedication first as a supporter, then a board member and now co-president of Citymeals-on-Wheels, I had come to know the strength and savvy of Farkas as his liaison. Following her boss’s practice, she offered the first look at Rotisserie Georgette as a benefit for Citymeals. I met the carpenters from the Bronx who built the bar and the two-story armoire for coats. I heard the story of the palatial boudoir drapes and flea market tapestries.

Grilled octopus Grenobleoise means ratte potatoes, lemon capers and tomato confit.

          And I said hello to her mother who found the fabulous blue and white tile, bought in Portugal decades ago and forgotten in a warehouse. Now it framed the open kitchen when Malbequi and his team kept a battalion of servers armed with finger food that benefit evening. Crisp, fried artichokes were the best dish. Yet when the restaurant opened two weeks later, artichokes were not on the menu. Time, I thought, I’ll give them time.

Start with gnocchi Parisienne, made from pâte à choux, with essence of wild mushroom.

          Now, after not much patience at all, I’m back last week with fussy gourmand pals. By 9, tables and bar are packed -- waspish locals vying with clots of self-crowned inheritors of the universe for the host’s favor. Running a dining room may be new but the 10021 zip code culture is kindergarten for Georgette. She knows her fief. That’s why she never scouted real estate south of Bergdorf’s.

          Not quite a month has sharpened the kitchen. I’ve not yet tasted the $24 half chicken in a choice of three flavors: Provençale, diablo or grand-mère. I’m focused on the star of the show – the $72 Poule de Luxe for two with seared foie gras cutlets. It’s really juicy now, full of flavor, seasoning revved up, even the white meat is wonderfully moist.

A regal stuffed chicken is served on a throne with room for sides underneath.

          A French friend explains the joke: Poule de Luxe is French slang for a lady of the night, not quite a prostitute, she explains. “A tart.”  Georgette’s poules are raised organically and air-chilled at Ashley Farms in Piedmont, NC, and on a Mennonite farm in Ephrata, PA. With an introduction from Ariane Daguin at D’Artagnan, Georgette drove out to meet farmer Leon Zimmerman. “He has 13 children,” she reports.

Left: Cauliflower steak with Jerusalem artichokes and raisins. Right: rotisserie potatoes.

          I’m still disturbed that the mushroom stuffing is so meager – stuffed under the skin over the breast. I could miss out altogether as I favor the dark meat.  But I sneak a tablespoon of stuffing before my white meat-eating companions figure it out. A side of stuffing baked separately would be nice tucked below the bird alongside bowls of sensuous rotisserie-soaked potatoes and a side of cauliflower tossed with Jerusalem artichokes and raisins.

Salade Francine is a toss of fennel, artichoke hearts, wax beans and arugula.

          I’m getting used to the prices now. Starters up to $28 for foie gras and $18 for a salade had startled me.  I wasn’t exactly expecting Chirpin’ Chicken but Rotisserie as a concept sounded more modest. Clearly real estate this close to Barney’s doesn’t come at a discount.

Salade G mixes endive, frisée, Asian pear, candied walnuts, lardon and blue cheese.

          Both the Salade Francine with arugula, artichoke hearts and Parmesan chips and the Salade G with Asian pear, lardons and candied walnuts are big enough for two or three to share. Especially if, like us, you’re dividing an appetizer size gnocchi with wild mushrooms.

I’m trying to recall the last time I was offered pâté en croûte. Very elegant!

          The evening’s special pâté en croûte with foie gras and gelée has classic old-fashioned elegance, but as long as the kitchen is cutting it in two, why not cut it in three to make it easier for our trio to divide? It suggests a waiter’s indifference or lack of communication with the kitchen.

No choice. I’ll take the chicken over this chewy lamb culotte anytime.

          You can order a strip streak or duck breast with huckleberry glaze from the rotisserie too. The whole roasted branzino is beautifully cooked, carefully boned. My friends are happier than I am with the lamb culotte (a chewy cut from the top of the shank).  Rita says hers is tender. Mine is not, though it’s better seasoned this time around.

Will someone please bone the branzino?  No problem.

          On my second visit, potatoes cooked in the rotisserie drippings make up for the restraint of the stuffed and truffled baked Idaho potato that first evening, gorgeous as it was – I was expecting a lusty American stuffer oozing sour cream. 

          Tarte tatin for two with crème fraîche (more please) makes a fine ending for the table. Ours had the classic, almost-burned taste of caramelized sugar and butter, better than a slightly anemic pot au chocolat. 

Tarte tatin has that almost burned caramelized edge but no crackle.

          I watch Georgette racing back and forth across the room in five-inch spikes. “I like what they said about Ginger Rogers,” she offers. “She did everything Fred Astaire did only backwards.” Her body in clingy black is perfect, no time to eat, I suppose, air kissing friends and familiars. Jean-Claude Baker tonight. The Lauders. Charlie Rose and Amanda Burden. Daniel’s wife Katherine with her mother one night, with Daniel on another. The real estate kings. It occurs to me that the life of a restaurateur can be as big a commitment as the life of a nun.

          “You must come for lunch,” she urges, “to taste our roast chicken pot pie. We do it with porcini and bacon in a puff pastry crust.”

I was so disappointed with the uptight stuffed potato the first time, I didn’t try it again.

          “I was born to retail,” Georgette had reminded me when we met months ago to discuss why a restaurant now. (Are you old enough to remember when the Farkas family’s Alexander’s competed with Bloomingdale’s next door?) “I always meant to open a restaurant one day,” she said, speaking with her characteristic hyper speed as if to cram all of life in.  “If I’d not had that kitchen and hotelier experience, I would never have considered it.”

14 East 60th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. 212 390 8060. Lunch, Monday to Saturday noon to 3 pm. Dinner Sunday and Monday 5:45 to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday 5:45 to 11.


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