The dining room at 24 Fifth Avenue has had a storied run: For years, it was home to Cru, that wine mecca that turned over a few years back for Lotus of Siam, a New York offshoot of a world-renowned Vegas strip mall Thai joint. New York City — and fancier digs — didn’t suit that concept, though, and after a roaring start, it soon faded away. Rosemary’s Carlos Suarez and Mark Barak now hold the lease, and this week, they opened Claudette, which pays homage to Provence.
The dining room itself is barely recognizable from its former days; the new tenants ripped out the awkward front reception area and enclosed the front room so that it feels smaller and more intimate. Peek through the kitchen door from the bar and you’ll see that the back-of-the house is working with a monstrous amount of space for a Manhattan restaurant. Suarez and Barak gave the interior a whitewash, and the decor — hand-painted blue and white wall tiles, floors made with reclaimed barn wood — channels a seaside bistro or home.
The restaurateurs installed chef Koren Grieveson, imported from Chicago’s Avec, behind the burners, and she’s turning out a menu of Provençal classics that also derives inspiration from the Mediterranean and North Africa. The list traipses through a half dozen spring vegetable starters (radishes with spring peas, pickled leeks with favas), appetizers like a warm lamb salad and buttered shrimp, a board of spackled toasts, and entrees like a whole roasted dorade served with burnt lemon, bouillabaisse en croute, and a chicken tagine. On one of the first nights the restaurant was open, the food we ordered was immaculate; the vegetables and that chicken were standouts.
Service is still getting its sea legs, but you probably won’t notice as soon as you’re drinking one of the dozen aperitifs or a bottle of rosè. Be sure to finish your meal with one of the seasonal desserts.
Oh, and you’ll want to make a reservation. But if you do decide to drop by unannounced, the bar is a good place for a bite.