the upper east side needs another cozy french bistro like williamsburg needs another skinny-jeaned hipster, which is to say not very much at all. but this lack of necessity did not deter owner stephanie laurent from replacing her brazilian joint, buzina pop, on east 73rd for, you guessed it, a cozy french bistro. however, there is something decidedly different, kinky almost about the nouvelle vague-themed space (laurent took the restaurant's name and vibe from her favorite childhood 70's spy film). there are the typical small chairs, with usual close tables, but a palpable coyness pervades. black and white pictures of jacqueline bisset and the like line the loungey subterranean first floor, which features a full bar. you can head upstairs for more formal dining in the sun-drenched airy second floor. windows covering the back wall overlook lexington avenue, providing easy access for covert observation. wind is blowing on a cold sunday morning as we step into the carpeted stairwell of le magnifique to be greeted by a warm draft and hostess, who is quick to offer us a table outside. we bravely accept. black and white pictures of jacqueline bisset and the like line the loungey subterranean first floor, which features a full bar. photo by andrew schwartz we are led back out into the wind tunnel that is the le magnifique patio facing 73rd street. if you're going to hang outside le magnifique on a cold-or hot-sunday morning, you're going to want one of their piquant bloody marys. the spices meld well, while retaining that necessary kick. a little sweet tomato, red pepper and horseradish never hurt anyone. and they go down very easily. but if you prefer wine, the french-centric list provides some interesting and fairly priced options. in fact, both food and wine here, while retaining a bit of french glam, are rather reasonably priced.
we are given a one-page food menu listing the usual suspects: french bean salad, escargots and french onion soup are among the starters, while the classic poulet roti, scallops and steak frites comprise the entrées. one can detect a hint of identity crisis with the branzino, served mediterranean style, grilled and whole, and the risotto. but le magnifique's sense of regional self is quickly restored with the ultimate french ingredient: butter. the thick and creamy risotto is undoubtedly made with copious amounts of the dairy product, while the moist and flaky branzino is accompanied by enough lemon butter sauce to send the greeks and italians running for their rosaries.
the meal commences with the tuna tartare with foie gras. the dish arrives promptly and is artfully plated. the cooked foie gras is peppered proportionately to the raw tuna, creating a rather delectable and rich taste sensation. the appetizer portion is rather large and, depending on your level of hunger, could be shared between two. service throughout the meal can be compared to good car insurance; you're only aware of its presence when you absolutely need it and when it's time to pay up.
i decide to keep with the raw theme and order the steak tartare for my entrée, which is prepared tableside. the wait staff is rather open to suggestions and preferences. a little more caper and a little less onion? sure. after the dramatic mixing of the various ingredients in the oversized steel bowl, she cracks the (hopefully organic and cage-free) egg over the pile of coarsely diced carnage and plops it onto your plate for you to enjoy. this practice, common in france, is not recommended for the squeamish or for those who'd rather not work for their food. the beef holds its own, and since i controlled the seasonings, it couldn't have tasted better.
dessert offerings are also traditional, such as the tarte tartin, and can be enjoyed with a well-made espresso. since brunch leads right into lunch, which creeps into dinner, you can find yourself seated at le maginifique for hours, enjoying yet another one, two or three drinks, especially if seated in the lounge area that naturally lends itself to, well, lounging. damn, these bloodies are good. -- le magnifique 1022a lexington ave., at 73rd street 212-879-6190 entrees: $17 to $33