Le Gigot: St. Germain de Pres Comes to New York
On a quiet humid night, Le Gigot echoes eerily the brasseries and bistros that dot Paris’ St. Germain de Pres and Le Marais neighborhoods. In a mad dash to escape the oppressive heat, still lingering at sunset, you scoot through the old heavy doors and into the cheery sunflower yellow jewelbox that is Le Gigot. Soft classical music is tinkling in the background; the sound of wine glasses knocking together and hushed conversation incites a certain nostalgia for summer evenings in the off-the-beaten-track alley restaurants that dot Paris’ residential areas. Just 10 or so tables keep the crowd to an intimate minimum, but a charming zinc bar with an equally charming barkeep offers additional room for drinks and eats, if you so wish. Sparse yet appropriate wall decor nods to Paris again, with an antique train station clock and a small sign proclaiming the kitchen adage that “le chef a toujours raison” – the chef is always right.
On Cornelia Street’s Restaurant Row, Le Gigot shares a block with Po, Cornelia Street Cafe, Pearl Oyster Bar, and Home – several illustrious neighbors, to say the least. Yet, with it’s authentic version of accessible French comfort food, this almost 15 year old neighborhood favorite holds its own against Batali-started Po and the maddeningly popular Cornelia Street Cafe. The primary inspiration is Provencal cuisine, simple, fresh, and ‘pure.’ The menu will offer classics like steak frites, a layered bouillabase, country pate, garlicky escargots, roast chicken and duck confit. By and large, they will all be dishes you’ve seen before – yet, either because of the environment or perhaps the skill of the chef, they taste just like they would in France instead of like expensive knock-offs.
On a sticky and sweaty night in Manhattan, the chilled asparagus soup is particularly refreshing – cool and savory with just enough salt and a robust asparagus flavor. The diver sea scallops were also tasty; the size of sand dollars with a beautiful caramelized bottom, they were juicy and meaty, utterly devoid of unwanted fishy flavor and served with an array of accoutrements, including mini asparagus heads and wilted spinach. The country pate came as a generous slab, simultaneously crumbly and moist, just as it should be, and served with toasted slices of baguettes. The only noticeable slip from the kitchen was the lobster entree, served buttery with a gummy and tasteless saffron risotto – if you have such beautiful lobster meat, why would you ruin it with a poorly executed risotto?
Desserts abounded in traditional French style with everything from an upside-down tarte tatin to a chocolate cake to assorted glaces to the obligatory creme brulee. My recommendation? The tarte tatin – it’s sweet but not too sweet, fresh, and made with a beautiful soft pie dough. The noticeable excitement about dessert makes Le Gigot an excellent spot for an espresso and piece of cake at the bar.
Le Gigot actually oozes charm – its small, intimate, and personal with a distinctly French flair you’re hard-pressed to find, authentically, in Manhattan. While the food won’t blow your mind, it’s good and simple – soul-satisfying in a way. If you’re looking to avoid the big-box, overtly trendy, sceney spots that Manhattan is known for, Le Gigot offers a refreshingly chic alternative.
Perfect For: intimate dinner for two, wine and dessert at the bar, nostalgia-fueled dinner with the parents, pretending you’re at a Parisian cafe, francophiles, a breath of fresh air