By Laura Shunk
By James A. Foley
By Billy Lyons
By Laura Shunk
By Eve Turow
By Scarlett Lindeman
By Robert Sietsema
By Lauren Mowery
One of the early restaurants to stake a claim in what over the past decade it helped establish as the Flatiron district, L'acajou is a lunchtime fave where uptown and downtown publishing meet. A long bar presumably crafted from the eponymous mahogany invites impromptu conversations among strangers, while booths in the dining area offer relative privacy in a fortuitous commingling of conviviality and seclusion, and the $9.50 lunchtime soup and salad and $21 prix fixe are increasingly attractive bargains in these days of small presses and overall expense-account parsimony. But L'acajou serves a communal function in the evening too, welcoming neighborhood residents and cash-clutching survivors of the malling of Sixth Avenue. The $27.50 prix fixe dinner, available until 8 p.m., is the perfect showcase for an unpretentiously classic menu that is definitely worth a detour.
53 W. 19th St.
New York, NY 10011-4202
Category: Restaurant >
Region: West Village
My francophile mom joined me on my first visit and immediately decided on the three-course bonanza, starting with a scrumptious potato-and-leek soup that was not the usual parmentier, but rather bits and chunks of veggies in a mossy broth. I selected the terrine de jarret de boeuf ($7.50), which proved a sizable slab of pulled beef imprisoned in a rich jelly: primal perfection, especially when coupled with tartly toothsome cornichons, a smear of Dijon's best, and crusty slices of country bread. My friend picked delicately at her dew-fresh mesclun, saving herself for the precisely à point steak ($26) that was perfect in pink and thin, crisp frites complete with the optional sauce rouge the restaurant has waiting for ketchup diehards. I copped out with a well-executed frisée ($7.50) topped with a huge pile of richly porky pig bits. Mom's trout special, selected from among the four main courses the prix fixe offered, swam again, this time in a lake of brown butter with a topping of toasted almonds. Splendidly simple, it was enough to have her feigning fluency so she could compliment the waitress in French. She loved her crème caramel as well, although I found my blood orange soufflé in vanilla sauce slightly insipid, one of the few times the place fell short of its own standards of excellence.
When I returned, the trout was no longer available, and the waitress had an accent more Guinness than Gallic. I found my thrill, however, in a sautéed Dover sole ($26) that was almost good as the trout, but sans appetizer and dessert. The soupe du jour was a surprising puree of eggplant and potato with a hint of cumin for colonial style. Fluffy pucks of goat cheese drizzled with a roasted red pepper coulis topped toasted baguette rounds ($9.50) and were the perfect foil for a piquant tapenade. A roasted cod whose mild flesh was toned up with hazelnut butter and the muted zing of roasted garlic ($19.50) took one friend's fancy. The other selected a darkly flavored calf's liver in a stygian puddle of Armagnac, onions, and chanterelles ($18.50) that proved the chef had earned his toque. Not wanting to spoil the afterglow from my sole, I ended with twin globes of grapefruit-Campari and blood orange sorbet ($5), while my friends indulged in a better-than-average crème brûlée ($6) and a velvetly decadent wedge of chocolate cake ($6). Not the usual display of gastronomic pyrotechnics that have come to symbolize Gallic cuisine, the food at L'acajou is simply and satisfyingly stellar.
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