PROVENCE, VIA CHELSEA
Allegretti had been open for only one month the night we visited it, but it has already hit quite an enviable stride on every level, from the superb French Provençale cuisine to the quicksilver and highly congenial staff to the stately and comfortable dining room. Needless to say, this sort of flawlessness takes very careful planning, but it also takes committed people who really care a lot about turning a new restaurant into a destination that will draw regular customers from among the ranks of the most tasteful New Yorkers. The restaurant is co-owned by its eponymous executive chef, Alain Allegretti, and partner Tino Scarpa. The space, which was designed by Karen Gorman, is uncommonly handsome. Enormous mirrors line most of the west wall of the sophisticated dining room, which is set about with perfectly beautiful gold sconces with glimmering glass hurricane globes. Clothed tables are arranged around the oak floor, and a certain unmistakable poise prevails. So few restaurants get the lighting this right. Lovely Megan Flinn oversees the wine list, which is, of course, mostly French, and extraordinarily large for a restaurant that seats 74, with 16 wines available by the glass. House cocktails include a tart lavender lemonade, featuring freshly made lemonade, a twist of candied lemon peel and plenty of lavender-infused Chopin Vodka. After rounds at such prestigious restaurants as Le Louis XV under Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo, La Chevre d'Or in the Relais-Chateau, Le Cirque 2000 and Atelier at the Ritz-Carlton, young chef Allegretti made his lifelong dream come true and opened his own restaurant. The seasonal menu he has created is largely Niçoise, from whence Allegretti hails. Our amuse bouche was a cool, slightly sweet, creamy carrot soup with a dab of crème fraîche dribbled generously with osetra caviar-an auspicious beginning, to be sure! Peppery nuggets of Perugina pork sausages come on a soft bed of sautéed red bell peppers, each nugget topped by a prim panisse disc a little over an inch across. (It doesn't get any more Niçoise than panisse, a fried chickpea-flour cake.) Pitted Niçoise olives are here and there on the plate. If you've ever tried to pit a Niçoise olive, you'll appreciate the level of skill and effort that went into producing these. Thick octopus tentacles are perfectly grilled, saline and sweet, with that incomparable chew. The tentacles are sliced and plated with potato, red onion, celery, green apple, cherry tomatoes and arugula, dressed with a honey vinaigrette. Niçoise ravioli are stuffed with braised oxtail and Swiss chard-a whole meal stuffed inside ravioli-and delicately dressed with an orange-tinged beef jus. Rectangular shards of parmigiano finish the plate. It doesn't get any more tender than veal tenderloin medallions. Nice thick medium-rare slices are unusually flavorful, thanks in part to the carefully wrought veal jus and to their warm bed of dark sautéed wild mushrooms. Colorado lamb medallions, also medium-rare, thick and spoon-tender, are served with spinach-ricotta gnocchi, nice gnarly fava beans and an anisey fennel gratiné. It's all beautifully plated and deeply flavored, but it's especially clear throughout the meal that each and every ingredient is cooked and nursed and fussed over according to its needs-the French way. Desserts are no less lovingly prepared. Rummy lemon brioche is dabbed with lemon-lime whipped cream and served with a poached and quartered fig, giving the dish a fine contrast between fluffy and robust. A very rich grappa chocolate fondant comes with a particularly good ricotta-almond sorbet, resulting in layers of flavor, not just one continuous blast of chocolate. No matter how crowded it gets-and crowded, it gets!-the restaurant always maintains a certain dignity, like a Midtown private club in many ways. This restaurant is one for the ages. -- Allegretti 46 W. 22nd St. btw. Fifth and Sixth aves. 212-206-0555 -- [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto:email@example.com)
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