Restaurant Review: Auberge Argenteuil (2.5 Stars)

A New Twist On Old French Favorites

A New Twist On Old French Favorites

 

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Fresh new energy is flowing through Auberge Argenteuil, a fixture of French dining in Hartsdale since 1976. Claude Moreau, a 34-year-old chef from the Normandy region of France, and his stunning Peruvian wife, Patricia, purchased the restaurant in September after tiring of toiling long hours for others. The restaurant business is notoriously demanding, and Claude has been in it for more than 15 years, including seven and a half years as executive chef of Le Chateau in South Salem. “We decided if we were going to work that hard, it might as well be for ourselves,” says Patricia, who runs the front of the house.

 

The couple, who originally met in Paris, arrived in May for a trial run during the summer. They found a restaurant without much trade. (Sometimes owners get tired by the end of their run, and so does the restaurant.) The Moreaus felt they could rebuild the business by pleasing the old faithful (like the woman who was celebrating her 80th birthday the night we were there) with classics like Dover sole in lemon caper butter sauce, while attracting new customers by word of mouth.

 

One big change: The restaurant’s prix-fixe menu is now offered only on Sunday ($34 for appetizer, entrée, dessert and coffee). The new emphasis is on expanded à la carte offerings—seven or eight appetizers and entrées. Some favorites from the summer menu, such as the foie gras in duck consomme appetizer and the curried shrimp with a mango and coconut sauce entrée, are still available. The new winter menu includes crab-filled crêpes with Champagne sauce, sweetbreads sautéed with cognac and shallots, and free-range chicken in a morel sauce. For dessert, Claude is serving crêpes Normandy stuffed with sautéed apples and flambéed with calvados, an apple brandy. The dessert will be served with a glass of “cidre de bouchée,” flavorful hard apple cider from Normandy, which Claude has gone to some trouble to locate.

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Auberge Argenteuil has an attractive location on a tree-covered hillock, close to the commercial tangle of Central Avenue but a world away. This simple “stick” Victorian house, white with classic green trim, has a long history as a place of pleasures, both tawdry and refined. Besides its quarter-century as a bastion of classic French cuisine, it has also served as a bordello and
a speakeasy.

 

The main dining room is a closed-in porch that juts off the back of the house. The multi-windowed, T-shaped room is comfortable, though dated. Blue trellising on the walls is designed to give the room a “garden” feel but it—like the Astroturf-covered outside steps, the bannister with heavy fringe and the aging window treatments—desperately needs updating. Patricia says improvements are planned, and I’d make it the highest priority. A young designer (or even a talented friend) could make huge improvements to what are good “bones.” Two handsome old dining rooms, now shuttered, hold particular promise.

 

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Our meal started with warm rolls (individually served with tongs) and butter, both of which were very good. The Moreaus had not yet updated the wine list, which leaned toward selections from France and California. We decided to order by the glass—a simple Chardonnay from J. Moreau et Fils (no relation). The best starter was la cassolette d’escargots, snails removed from the shell and served with chopped mushrooms in a cream sauce flavored with garlic and a faint touch of pernod. The escargots were tender and plentiful, and the sauce so delicious I sopped up every bit with the roll.

 

The mesclun salad, which featured fresh greens in a nicely balanced vinaigrette, was also very good. The roasted vegetable tart with chevre was made with eggplant, a fact that surprised my husband, who doesn’t much fancy the vegetable. The flavors were nice though (if you like eggplant), and greatly enhanced by the bright tomato coulis on the plate. I thought it was served a little too cold.

 

The best of the entrées was the rack of lamb, top-quality chops that had been rubbed with a “crust” of salt, herbs and garlic, and served pink, juicy and tender. They were truly outstanding. Whipped potatoes and green beans were served on the side. The roast breast of duck, sliced and fanned on the plate, was tender, but the skin was not crisp enough for me, and the brandy cherry sauce was a little sweet for my palate (though some liked it). The rice on the side was buttery and good. The only miss was the special, a filet of halibut in a white wine and mustard sauce. It was perfectly “done,” but soon overcooked on the extremely hot plate, losing its firm texture—and its appeal. 

 

For dessert, we enjoyed a scoop of deliciously rich chocolate ganache sprinkled with candied orange peel and served on a raspberry sauce. The special of the day, a tart of sliced apricots cooked into a swirl of pound cake and custard, was also excellent. The tarte tatin, however, had cold, soggy apples that had not caramelized, and an unappealing crust. The cappuccino was unusually good—strong and intensely flavored.

 

The Moreaus believe the changes they’ve made are bearing fruit. “Some people who had stopped coming are trying us again, and we’re seeing some younger people coming back,” says Claude. “We want to get the word out.”

 

I hope this review helps.

 

AUBERGE ARGENTEUIL

42 Healey Avenue, Hartsdale

(914) 948-0597

 

HOURS:

Tue. to Thurs, 5:30-9 pm

Fri. and Sat., 5:30-9:30 pm

Sunday, 12-7 pm

For the month of December only, lunch will be served from 12-2 pm

 

PRICES: 

Appetizers: $5 and $21

Entrées: $19.50-$30

Desserts: $7

 

RATINGS:

Food—VVV

Service—VVV

Décor—V1/2

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