La Promenade des Anglais: France Gets Loud

Alain Allegretti seasons his new restaurant with noise

It's fitting that La Promenade des Anglais, a new restaurant whose name recalls Nice's famed Mediterranean boardwalk, is located next to New York City's most beloved stretch for strolling: the High Line.

Ensconced in the vast London Towers apartment complex in Chelsea, this classy Art Deco–ish eatery from chef Alain Allegretti champions the cuisine of Southern France. Flavors recall those at his now-shuttered Flatiron restaurant, Allegretti, only with a slightly lower price point (au revoir, $36 entrées).

Indeed, no white tablecloths here, but a touch of elegance, nevertheless. Plush blue booths welcome gaggles of nearby gallerists, while weekend evenings pack in coiffed couples on dates. What begins as quiet chatter turns into a veritable din by the end of the evening, sound bouncing off the long antique mirrors, brass light fixtures, and gold-painted ceiling.

Focus on the food instead of the noise. I generally shun snacks "for the table" because it seems silly to fill up on pre-appetizers (that cost the same as the starters, no less). One exception: the prosciutto and clam croquettes ($12). These delicate béchamel bombs ooze with brine and are as creamy as can be. Think of them as the Frenchman's deconstruction-reconstruction of New England's classic chowder. Or don't think—just stuff your face with 'em.

Maybe because we're in the throes of winter, but the dishes I fell hardest for were the two soups. One's a murky-looking lentil mire, tie-dyed green with minced spinach ($12). It's not the belle of the bowl, but it's sexed up thanks to a poached egg that oozes liquid gold. The other's a classic Provençal fish treatment ($14). The rust-colored liquid gets a bang from saffron and plenty of garlic; Gruyère-and-rouille-topped toasts bob along the surface like little edible sailboats. Don't miss either of these.

The menu allows for the occasional flight of fancy—lemongrass doesn't get as much play as lavender in the Côte d'Azure, but you might rally for its use after sampling the sweet red shrimp tartare atop chips with celery-root rémoulade, accented with the oft-Asian stalk ($16). Vitello tonnato, an Italian classic of poached veal in tuna sauce, is elegantly reinterpreted here with sweetbreads and bluefin ($18). Order these instead of the one-note (though pretty) kale-and-red-cabbage salad with duck prosciutto and pomegranate seeds ($14) and octopus à la plancha with chickpea salad ($16), slightly chewy and underseasoned.

My top entrée pick goes to the perfectly cooked veal medallions with cauliflower puree, flanked by roasted brussels sprouts and topped with tomato marmalade ($30). It's a smarter bet than the lamb osso buco ($30), rich and robust but way too dry on a recent visit. Pescatarians might enjoy the fat scallops with a paella-flavored risotto cake and a lightly spiced tomato sauce ($29).

Allegretti's talent lies in combining bold seasonings (truffles, chorizo, olives, and piment d'Espelette make the rounds here) with subtle and refined execution. True, you'll find a few missteps. (I didn't really care for the desserts, and service can be disorganized.) Yet the smells and tastes beautifully capture those sun-drenched afternoons spent on fishing boats and glitzy evenings lost in a rosé-fueled haze. That's to say, all those glorious reasons why the English flocked from their dreary culinary wasteland to the French Riviera every goddamn frigid winter.

lshockey@villagevoice.com

For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.

 
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