Sunday, November 23, 2008

French country charm at Allegretti

On Saturday evening, AV and I made our way to Allegretti, a relatively new French restaurant in the Flatiron district. After a bit of a directional mishap leaving the subway (my fault... a rare lapse of my razor-sharp sense of direction), we arrived in the comfortable dining room a bit late and a bit cold but otherwise unscathed. AV checked his coat (note: no ticket, yet the correct coat was returned in fine form at the end of the meal. How do they DO that??) and we were led to a table towards the back of the dining room.

A few notes on the room itself. It's pretty; clean and low-key while still subtly French. However, it's loud. Though the undersides of the tables were coated with noise-absorbing foam, the hardwood floors, mirrored walls, and hard-backed chairs caused noise to amplify to a level where conversation bordered on difficult. A few more soft surfaces would fix this, so perhaps a few French tapestries are in order? Just a friendly suggestion... Also, I'll note that our two-top, along with the rest of the tables lining the wall, was angled into the dining room for seemingly no apparent reason. AV and I had a lengthy discussion about why this might be so, but we decided we didn't entirely like it.

But on to the food. We were presented with the wine list first; I chose a bottle of the Vincent Girardin "Emotion de Terroirs" White Burgundy. The label was quite cute (always a very important feature of good wine), and the wine itself was crisp and delicious.

Then the menu: it's short but comprehensive. We placed our orders and waited patiently for the bread man, who came by offering three types of bread: pumpkin, sourdough, and raisin. This was certainly the most jovial bread man I've ever encountered, although he seemed strangely rushed, and the fact that I basically could not understand a word he said and meant him repeat the choices several times probably didn't help things. In any case, I ended up with a small piece of sourdough roll and a piece of raisin roll. Both pieces were delicious: crusty with a dense, chewy interior-- classically delicious French bread. I tried a taste of AV's pumpkin bread, and that, too, was surprisingly delicious; as he said, it was like a "tasty little precursor to Thanksgiving." And who doesn't like Thanksgiving? The bread was accompanied by French butter, which was a bit weird-- a thin triangle of butter that seemed to have veins of oil running through it. If it had been a bit softer, it would have gone with the bread a bit better, but overall the bread course was top-notch.

The raisin bread looks like a pig in a blanket

Pumpkin on the right

Soon, two small amuse-bouches arrived at our table. It was a tiny taste of minestrone soup with chickpeas-- a tasty little start to the meal (and always appreciated).

Gotta love a good chickpea

Then-- hot on the heels of the amuse-- came our entrees. AV had selected the Nicois Ravioli, which came stuffed with braised oxtail and swiss chard, topped with parmesan shavings and bathed in a sauce of orange beef jus. There was also a bed of chard, which I tasted (yummy). AV declared the ravioli to be "outstanding," perfectly cooked, and just the right size. I'll add that the dish was quite beautifully presented as well.

Like tiny hats, with garnishes

My selection was the autumn salad. It was dominated by large pieces of radicchio and endive, coupled with a scattering of arugula leaves, a few thinly-sliced pieces of anjou pear, candied walnuts, and a few blue cheese crumbles. I'm not the hugest fan of blue cheese, but it went well in this salad, which was quite tasty and fun to eat.

A pile of autumn vegetables

Finally, we moved on to dessert. We decided to split the caramel mousse, which came as a small hemisphere of light, cinnamon-spiked mousse atop a crust of "spiced bread." Two candied walnuts finished out the plate, alongside a particularly delicious squiggle of decorative caramel. The dessert was certainly not enormous, but it was well-made, sweet, and lovely. And beautiful. Did I mention their food was pretty?

The line of soil was a little weird

After our dessert was done, a complimentary plate of mignardises arrived, consisting of two pieces of fennel seed sugared shortbread and some sort of mysterious meringue. I really don't like fennel seeds, but the shortbread was surprisingly tasty. The meringue, however, was gross. Not sure what was in it, but whatever it was isn't supposed to be in meringues. However, free post-dessert treats are always a huge bonus, even if they turn out to be sort of weird.

Free! And full of fennel

The experience of dining at Allegretti is notably fantastic. The service is smooth, friendly, and attentive without being the slightest bit overbearing. And after we had finished, our server let us linger as long as we wanted at the table without hounding us, making us uncomfortable, or even dropping the check before it was requested. Very, very classy. I'll also note that the bathrooms were beautiful and spotless, although they both had a mysteriously strong breeze blowing through them-- perhaps they had imported a bit of the Mistrals to make the restaurant even more authentically Provencal? While it wasn't quite at the level of Eleven Madison Park or One if by Land, Allegretti was definitely a thoroughly enjoyable four-Offset Spatula restaurant.

46 W. 22nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

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