Allegretti, NYC

December 22, 2008

Shortly after Allegretti opened last August in Chelsea, the normal opening publicity was hyped by Bill Clinton’s celebrating his 60th birthday there with Hilary and Chelsea.   In October Frank Bruni gave it two New York Times stars, so out of curiosity I went on December 11, 2008 with Gabrielle. We were promptly seated at 7:00 and selected from the menu, which included many dishes with Niçois or Provençal touches. Alain Allegretti comes from Nice. Even though Provençale, in its Nissard dialect, was spoken in Nice long after it had disappeared from Aix, St-Rémy and other places that now put on Provençal airs, the cuisine of Nice is almost entirely of Italian origin and a distinct cousin of Provençale cuisine.

The amuse-gueule was a little bowl of chestnut soup with farro and prosciutto. I ordered a bottle of 2005 Mas de Daumas Gassac red wine in keeping with the southern French theme.


Gaby’s first course was
classic pumpkin soup with chicken liver royal, hazelnut tuille, sage emulsion

She thought that the soup had a nice flavor, but it was a bit thin. The chicken liver mousse in the middle was nice.

My first course was a special of the evening.
Most of the dining room staff is South American. They are very efficient, but have little knowledge of the cuisine; their English and French are basic. They do not know how to pace the meal and were serving our first courses when we were just finishing our amuse-gueule. Of course, I figured that they wanted to turn over our table and that turned out to be the case. When the specials were described to us, we were told that a very good starter for the evening was “suckling pig.” I ordered it, thinking there might be something fresh and creative, but what I got was a classic Italian dish often served in Nice “Porchetta.” That is not suckling pig in French, which is “cochon de lait,” but I can see how a Spanish speaker might think it was. “Porcelet” is a French piglet. Porchetta is a terrine made by gutting and boning a pig, restuffing the skin with pieces of the pork and herbs, rolling it up, roasting, cooling and slicing rounds. Here two slices were served with a piece of grilled bread and onions in between. A little salad with artichoke pieces was served alongside. The dish was okay, but I would have ordered something else if I had known.

Gaby’s main course was
faro, braised veal cheek, swiss chard

Farro is the original grain of Italy; they say that it fed the Roman legions. It has a nuttier flavor than rice, but since it doesn’t absorb liquids as rice does, the “risotto” is somewhat liquid. The braised veal cheek was nice, but since it is so rich, it didn’t need such a large piece. The overall flavor was excellent, making this an enjoyable dish on a rainy winter’s night.

My main course was another special of the evening, a braised pork shank.

Once again, I wasn’t sure what I was ordering. The shank was boned, huge and very rich. I imagine that Bill Clinton would have finished it, but I could not. The flavor was deeper and more interesting than a more ordinary lamb shank. The polenta rounds were good and appropriate.

Gaby’s dessert was
Lemon verbena creme brulée
Good regional flavors, although she thought that the verbena was a bit too strong.

My dessert was
Fennel tarte tatin, zucca gelato

This was unusual and very good. Bravo to the pastry chef. Fennel had been braised, sweetened and prepared as a small tarte tatin; you can see the crust on the bottom. The preparation caramelized the fennel nicely. Pumpkin ice cream with a few pumpkin seeds was the perfect topping.

There were two mignardises, a bit too sweet for my taste.

At this point they were hovering around our table and so we left to finish our conversation in the bar. We had ordered quickly and the service had been very fast so we had not occupied the table for an excessive time. The meal was enjoyable with two very good dishes and no real failures, but it was not at the level of the restaurant’s ambitions.

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