Like Paris in the Springtime
as spring breaks through in little bursts of sunshine and warm days, there is no better way to welcome it than by eating fresh mussels and sipping a glass of wine on the balcony of east side newcomer bistro vendôme. here, owner and chef pascal petiteau (of jubilee fame) dishes up delightful plates of french classics in an old townhouse. with three levels, lots of sun and a view of the queensboro bridge, bistro vendôme is a welcome addition to this quiet street.
whether you sit at the long, sparse bar near the entrance, the cozy basement dining area or at a white linen-covered table in the airy skylight terrace space, what makes this experience most comfortable are petiteau's delicate, yet bold dishes. on an earlier visit, we happily slathered the silky duck liver pâté ($9) on slices of fresh bread before sampling the
sizzling, herb butter-soaked escargots ($10 to $15). these perfectly cooked snails were worth ordering again, so when we went back, we were happy to see nothing had changed. once they cooled enough to eat, we popped them in our mouths and marveled again at how the commonly rubbery balls of snail managed to melt in a garlicky burst on our tongue.
escargot aside, the real specialty of the house is the moules-frites ($13 to $15), for which petiteau is known. bistro vendôme serves this dish five different ways, but hands down, the creamy, mushroom broth-drenched normande was our favorite. the basil and garlic basilic mollusks were surprisingly bland compared with the simple parsley and garlic provençal. we made sure to soak up the extra juices with a side of salty, crisp fries ($5), which yielded to the liquid just enough to give these potatoes a kick.
another french favorite petiteau and his wife, virginie, offer is an extensive wine list. with a cool, crisp glass of domaine de la pinardière muscadet ($7) in hand, we contemplated the dozens of bottles of dominantly french wines. we ended up just getting glasses of robust, berry-tinged tempranillo ($8) to go with the meal.
off the regular menu, we suggest skipping the chewy, dull tripes à la mode de caen ($22) in favor of the savory parmentier ($25). this shepherd's pie-like dish offers up juicy morsels of beef cheek, with a light black truffle jus, all in a neat square. we also loved the gently roasted, slightly sweet maine sea scallops ($25). they came on a bed of tender orzo and porcini risotto, with a light, porky specking of lardo. another winner was the rosemary-doused rack of lamb ($32), prepared rare with a simple potato gratin. the mustardy steak tartar ($24) is delicious and, since it is made to order, you can get it as spicy or mild as you like. the portion is huge and comes with a side salad and fries that can easily be shared by two, leaving room for dessert.
try the excellent rich chocolate fondant ($9), which comes with a scoop of meaty coconut ice cream. we also enjoyed the creamy, slightly citrus crème brûlée ($8), made with grand marnier and topped with a perfect caramel crust.
all together, bistro vendôme is a fine dining experience without the ridiculous prices or over-the-top food. petiteau keeps his dishes pure and simple, and executes them with class.
405 e. 58th st.
between first avenue and sutton place
entrées: $22 to $32
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