Born and raised on the Côte d’Azur, in the city of Marseille, Alexandra Pollet spent her childhood summers in nearby Monte Carlo. It was those fond memories that prompted Pollet to strike out on her own with Monte-Carlo NYC (181 East 78th Street; 646-863-3465). The new UES eatery features classic French fare, much of it with a Mediterranean twist.
With the aim of changing the menu four times per year, the restaurant offers a concise selection of fare from the country, made from high-quality local and imported ingredients. Traditional coq au vin ($26) includes Amish chicken, marinated and braised in red-wine sauce. The poultry does make a difference; it’s not fatty or gristly at all. Country terrine ($15) is another highlight. Served with toasted country bread, cornichons, and celery remoulade, the pâté is flavorful, meaty, and not the least bit metallic. On the more regional side, Barbajuans ($12) is one of the specialties from Monte-Carlo; the dish consists of deep-fried ravioli stuffed with wilted seasonal greens, ricotta, and parmesan.
Seafood plays a large part in the menu — makes sense, given the coastal bent. Skate fish Grenobloise with frisée salad, mashed potatoes, and brown butter caper sauce ($24) has proven quite popular, says Pollet. Another favorite has been the mussels marinières with shallots, white wine, parsley, and a touch of cream, served with hand-cut fries ($21). But the dish Pollet is most excited about is the dover sole. She uses the same provisioning company as Alain Ducasse to have it flown in to JFK daily. Prepared meunière-style (dredged in flour, cooked in a special Le Creuset pan, and served in brown butter, chopped parsley, and lemon), it’s simple and straightforward, but it’s not cheap; at $55, it’s substantially more expensive than anything else on the menu. (Most of the entrees are in the $25 to $30 range.)
The beverage menu is short but extensive. Pollet offers a nice selection of French wines and some California offerings, with many available by the glass. And the knowledgeable servers eagerly suggest pairings. If you’re going for the sole, they’ll tell you to get the Sanford Chardonnay ($13/$52) from Santa Barbara. Likewise, for the coq au vin, the Mischief and Mayhem Pinot Noir ($15/$60) from Burgundy will most likely be the recommendation. Cocktails, spirits, and after-dinner drinks round out the adult beverage options. Casino Royal ($13) is kind of like a mix of an old-fashioned and a manhattan, with rye, Cointreau, cognac, and creole bitters. The Captain Whitney Straight ($14) feels a bit lighter, with Remy VS Cognac, Ratafia (fortified wine), egg white, and lemon.
Service and atmosphere are an integral part of the equation for Pollet. She doesn’t want either to come across stuffy, yet she prides herself in making sure guests feel pampered. Tables are draped with white linens, but the setting is warm and inviting. Servers don sneakers; at the same time, they’re attentive and well-informed. Even the music is curated by Pollet herself — the restaurateur was actually a flutist and cellist throughout her teenage years, and she attended DJ school as an adult. That’s not to say it’s loud or overwhelming, though; the sound level is adapted to the audience. “Music and remixes are important because when you hear, for instance, Michael Jackson or music from the Eighties, you’ll see people like, ‘I’ve heard this, but I’ve never heard it this way before,’ ” says Pollet. “Music has been my life; it was a part of my childhood.”
Although this is Pollet’s first concept of her own, she’s been around the hospitality block. She studied international hospitality management at the Wales University, then went on to Glion Hotel School in Switzerland, worked in Bangkok, spent time on the food and beverage team at the Waldorf Astoria, and, most recently, was in consulting. Her years of experience, and figuring out which service path best suited her personality, have led her to Monte-Carlo. “It’s the interaction you have with customers,” says Pollet. “Overseeing guests dining in a restaurant is much more enjoyable than sitting at a hotel front desk.”
Monte-Carlo NYC is open Monday through Saturday, for lunch and dinner, from noon to midnight; on Sundays, it’s open from noon to 6 p.m. Brunch service will be starting soon.