Friday, November 10, 2006

NYC Dining: La Petite Auberge

First published 4/24/01

La Petite Auberge: A Neighborhood Gem by Steve Levine

116 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016View Map
(212) 689-5003
Directions: 6 at 28th St.

In the midst of Curry Hill is a small French restaurant with a local following named La Petite Auberge. My friend Dave and his girlfriend Lena had come here once before with my fiancé and I, and so when we wanted to go out again we decided to pay a repeat visit, especially because it was two blocks from his apartment.

We called ahead for a table a little before 9, but had to wait in the crowded front room by the coat check for about ten minutes. There wasn,t any more room for us at the tiny bar. The restaurant is a step-down space, with kind of a basement feel. The décor is timeless, though a bit dusty. The clientele is largely middle-aged and "senior," and except for one couple, the four of us were by far the youngest there while we were eating.

The service was attentive. We were seated for perhaps five seconds when the maitre ïd inquired after beverages and brought us a wine list. We selected a Chablis first, and a nice red Cotes du Rhone of some sort for after. A busboy came by immediately after with bread and a bowl of cold pieces of butter. He dropped two on each of our bread plates with a fork quickly and departed to fetch water. None of the staff looked down on us for our age, and our waiter actually remembered us from the prior visit. Water glasses were kept full, and standard serving conventions were observed wherever the close quarters allowed.

The menu is classically French. For appetizers Dave had asparagus with Hollandaise, Lena had oysters, Marci got standard escargots, and I had a lovely Shrimp Provençal. This part of the menu also featured basics like onion soup, shrimp cocktail, artichokes vinaigrette, and smoked salmon, all in the $4.50-$8.75 range.

For entrees, Marci had filet mignon with sauce Bordelaise, Lena had a special, veal tenderloin with Béarnaise, Dave ate a sirloin au poivre, and I went with a house specialty, Coq au Vin. These were all extremely well prepared, and the meat was cooked as requested. I normally never order chicken in a restaurant, but this preparation was stupendous. It was moist, flavorful, and was accompanied by some garlic mashed potatoes and blanched vegetables. Our waiter apparently agreed with me, because when I ordered he stated that he never orders chicken out, but loves this dish here. The entrees are priced reasonably, most between $12-19, with steak dishes priced at $23.

For dessert, we ordered the house specialty, souffle for two, ordered with our entrees, of course. Dave and Lena shared a Grand Marnier souffle while Marci and I had a chocolate one. These were textbook souffles, probably identical to the first one ever baked.

All in all, for a quiet neighborhood place La Petite Auberge is exceptional. Its food and service are on a par with far pricier restaurants.

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