Good & Plenty
Le Jardin du Roi turns out fine French fare fit for king-size appetites.
John Canaday, the late New York Times art critic who also reviewed restaurants back in the 1970s, used to regularly complain about portions that were “oppressively large.” C’mon, John, I used to snort, get off your high horse—how can there be too much of a good thing? But now that I’ve visited Le Jardin du Roi, an informal, kid-friendly place in the center of Chappaqua, I finally understand.
The portions at Le Jardin du Roi—some of them, at least—are not just large, but gargantuan. A lobster salad consists of chunks of lobster meat resting on a pile of greens so generous it fairly overflows the plate. A “salade aux deux saumons,” a combination of smoked and poached salmon atop a small mountain of roughage, is equally overwhelming. For someone just emerging from, say, a six-month hibernation, such helpings might be welcome. But for the rest of us, they’re disorienting, rather like sitting through a three-act play in which the order has gotten all mixed up. Is this an appetizer I see before me or the main course? Is it the beginning of the meal or the climax?
Not that Le Jardin du Roi is an entirely bad restaurant; indeed, armed with a little foreknowledge, it’s possible to dine here fairly well. The French onion soup we ordered as an appetizer was just as it should be, rich and satisfying with appropriate amounts of melted GruyÃ¨re, served in a proper-sized crock to boot. Snails in herbed butter were delicious (although it was a bit disappointing not to have them served in the shell), while a scallop appetizer was expertly sautÃ©ed. The aforementioned lobster salad was not unpleasant either, even if the proportions were off. On the other hand, the poached half of the two-salmon salad was downright rank, no doubt the result of lying around too long after a busy weekend, although I should point out that our waiter was kind enough to strike the item off the bill once we pointed it out.
The entrÃ©es were equally mixed. Both pastas we ordered—one alla carbonara, the other in a tomato cream sauce with scallops—were well-flavored, the first nicely smoky and redolent of bacon, the second strong and briny. SautÃ©ed scallops in a cream sauce were sweet and briny, too, while the high point of the evening was unquestionably the lightly seared slices of foie gras arrayed in tart-like fashion over a delicately sautÃ©ed potato cake the size of an old 45-rpm record. Everything about this dish was perfect—it was well-balanced and harmonious without being over-refined, and no ingredient was allowed to overwhelm any other. Unfortunately, the duck breast came so thickly bathed in a glutinous orange sauce that, for all we know, it could have been steak or pork.
Our waiter did us a favor by suggesting a half-portion of pasta for the youngest member of our party. He was also helpful in steering us to an excellent Haut-Medoc. Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical since “big and earthy” was all he would say when we asked him to describe its flavor. Yet when the bottle arrived, lo and behold, it was big and earthy, not to mention woodsy and with a nice mineral taste. It did wonders for our mood, as did the excellent (if a mite preciously arrayed) desserts: a delightful strawberry tart, a soulful tarte Tatin and an intense chocolate mousse.
Bill Clinton, one of Chappaqua’s well-known residents, is said to be a Le Jardin regular, which certainly makes sense. From what I know about the man, he goes for quantity over quality, which Le Jardin du Roi does at times as well.
LE JARDIN DU ROI
95 King Street, Chappaqua
Every day 8 am-12 pm,
Breakfast and lunch until 4 pm