Where Less is More
A neighborhood place in Mamaroneck serves an impressive array of French bistro classics—without the hoopla.
High rents, high prices, and the high-voltage lifestyle that goes with them are not generally good for cuisine. Instead of food that’s quiet and subtle, they tend to result in something flashy and overdressed. Everyone knows what I’m talking about—places where the “fusion” cuisine mixes elements of Scandinavian, Thai, and maybe Mexican as well, where each plate is stacked so perilously high it looks like the Nasdaq before the crash, and where the bill is so lofty it leaves you breathless. Taste, in such circumstances, is marginalized, which is why the margins are the only place you’re likely to find it—like, for instance, in downtown Mamaroneck.
Le ProvenÃ§al, a stone’s throw from the Mamaroneck train station, is precisely the sort of modest, understated place that could never make it in today’s overheated New York economy. The dÃ©cor is warm and attractive but not the least bit ostentatious, while the staff is friendly and efficient, even if a bit linguistically challenged. (When we ordered a dessert listed on the menu as “marquise au chocolat,” our waitress informed us that she had only had two years of high school French, so would we please try that again in English?) The food was superb, however. It reminded me of the neighborhood places in and around the ÃŽle Saint Louis and the Place de la Bastille, where I ate during my most recent trip to Paris, places that didn’t show off, but where the food was nonetheless masterful.
The same could be said for Le ProvenÃ§al. During a recent visit, we started with a trio of appetizers, a wild-mushroom soup, a crabmeat cocktail salad, and that hardy bistro perennial, snails in herbed butter and garlic. The soup was so woodsy it was downright autumnal, while the snails, tender and not the least bit rubbery, were swimming in a sauce that was surprisingly delicate and restrained. Mixed with cucumber slices in a creamy sauce, the crabmeat cocktail salad was light and refreshing.
The entrÃ©es were also top-notch. SautÃ©ed lobster and tomato over angel hair pasta were bathed in a pleasantly garlicky broth, while the pork in port wine sauce with shiitake mushrooms was done to a perfect pink. As one who has reduced more than his share of pork chops to cardboard, I was impressed. With just the right amount of sweetness and the perfect hint of bacon, the braised sweetbreads in an olive-and-mushroom wine sauce were among the best I’ve ever eaten.
The only disappointment was the desserts. While the marquise was very good, rich and chocolatey without being overpowering, the crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e was unevenly heated, warm in some spots, cool in others, and the “opÃ©ra au chocolat” (almond sponge cake soaked in espresso) was decidedly pedestrian. Still, at least they didn’t offer one of those hyper-caloric “mud pies” that show up on so many menus these days, so in this instance perhaps less really is more. Meanwhile, we washed it all down with a trÃ¨s fort 1998 Gigondas that was wonderfully balanced as well—complex and bracingly tannic without going over the top.
Le ProvenÃ§al strikes just the right Gallic notes. The menu is not silly and eclectic, but filled with sturdy bistro classics that have taken generations to perfect. The dishes are not jarringly over-flavored, but add up to a harmonious whole. All in all, it was every bit as good as what you’ll find in the quatriÃ¨me arrondissement, which is very good indeed. If the prices are bit a steeper on the other hand, think of how much you save in airfare.
436 Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm, Sat. and Sun. 12-3 p.m.
Dinner, Mon. to Fri. 6-10 pm, Sat. 5:30-11 pm, Sun. 5-9 p.m.