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Bois de la Vie!

 
 

...the subtle magic of
La Grenouille....

   

 

  

It's a magical world at La Grenouille.  There is, of course, the luxurious delight of a divine French meal in the theatrical atmosphere of the famous mirrored restaurant with its dramatic flowers and red banquettes, or the more intimate and romantic pleasure of the private dining room above, all high ceilings, charming wood balconies and beautiful oil paintings, light filtering through even more flowers at the tall windows.  But the magic is far more subtle than the obvious pleasures of food and decor, of celebrities that come and go, and is perhaps why La Grenouille has outlasted all the other old grand French restaurants in New York.

 

Charles Masson Sr., who founded La Grenouille in 1962, would tell his son Charles, the restaurant's current owner: "Bois de la vie!"  And perhaps this is part of the secret at La Grenouille -- that the experience is not merely culinary, but a complete one, an aesthetic event, one of the spirit as well as the body.  Masson, a French immigrant who fell in love with his adopted country, named his restaurant after a term of endearment that he used for his wife, one of those wonderfully idiosyncratic Gallic monickers: mon chou, ma poire, mon crotin…ma grenouille….

 

Flowers flowers everywhere…. dried flower arrangements that change with the seasons, extravagant bouquets of flowers, beautiful fresh flowers at tables….  Flowers that bloom, and history and art and literature that permeate the space, the very fabric of time discernible here.  Bernard Lamotte, the painter, and later a friend of the Massons, originally had a studio workspace in the second floor (what is now the private dining room) before La Grenouille opened, and one still feels the presence of those who once walked there…Jean Gabin, Charlie Chaplin….eCognoscente particularly loved that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a friend of Lamotte's, is said to have begun and worked on The Little Prince here, and something of that whimsical dreamy spirit still pervades the restaurant.  Lamotte's paintings and easel still decorate the room, as do the paintings of both Massons, père et fils

 

One understands then that the Massons are artists in the best sense of the word.  Some of La Grenouille's charm lies in the painterly attention to detail; taking the obvious -- fresh organic ingredients, classic French culinary skills, exquisite presentation, impeccable service -- and adding the perfectionist impulse...the subtleties of light given as much care as the food.  On a recent afternoon, we had La Salade d'Endives et Poires aux Noix et Roquefort, Le Foie de Veau aux Dattes et Raisins and a wonderful Bass Pöelé aux Épinards et Xérès.  The salad delicate and perfect, the pan seared calf's livers paired with dates, raisins, and sauteéd onions -- a felicitous marriage of sweet and salty flavors.  Bass that melted under the tongue, accompanied by tender roasted fingerling potatoes and spinach that had somehow been made divine with sherry.  All this with a fine dry Sancerre Pascal Jolivet 2007 and a Viré Clessé Prosper Maufoux Burgundy 2008.  And later, a remarkable Grand Marnier Soufflé that proudly rose from its dish like a white baker's hat, perfectly browned and crispy and filled with a mixture of liqueur and cream that could send even the most demanding food critic to culinary heaven.

 

 

Masson has created a very reasonably priced ardoise or blackboard concept in the private dining room upstairs and there are the daily prix fixe selections, perfect for pre-theatre or a business lunch, or one could just go all out and indulge for a long moment in the magic that is possible in this city.  Bois de la vie!    

 

Eat: La Grenouille 

 

Read: The Flowers of La Grenouille, Charles Masson 

 

Read: The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

 

 

 

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