A Gastronomic “Port of Call” Comes to Greenwich
Welcome to L’Escale, an Authentic ProvenÃ§al bistro
Provence, like Tuscany, has gone commercial, its aesthetic and gastronomic bounties distilled into a brand marketed on Main Street awnings in most every American township. Usually, the words “bistro” and “cafÃ©” are the extent of the authenticity.
Not so at Greenwich’s L’Escale. It’s a bit luxe, naturellement, but serves as memorable a mussels mariniÃ¨re or aioli as you’ll find anywhere along the CÃ´te d’Azur. You won’t be looking at fields of lavender, but grab a window table or a chair on the whitewashed terrace and a meandering inlet plays to similar entrancing effect. L’Escale, which means port of call, as well as the adjoining hotel, is the result of extensive renovation and painstaking detail, from its centuries-old limestone floors to its carved zinc bar, terrace latticework, massive stone hearth and whimsical wire-and-newspaper chandeliers, all brought from France by ProvenÃ§al designers.
Then there’s the food. Chef Brian Young, formerly of Harvest on Hudson in Hastings, worked as chef de cuisine at midtown’s Le Bernardin and attended Cordon Bleu in Paris. His cooking is a masterful balance of surefire technique and hi-def flavor. Garlic reigns, as it should, in a spicy corn- and avocado-garnished gazpacho, in the silky aioli accompaniment to a crunchy tangle of fried calamari and thread-like baby fish, and in the broth of perfectly steamed mussels served with addictive pommes frites. Black olives are everywhere: baked into wonderful bread; scattered among rosy slabs of grilled tuna, anchovies, boiled egg and a gardenful of vibrant vegetables in a light lemon-dressed niÃ§oise salad; crusted on a smoked salmon appetizer alongside toasted brioche and crÃ¨me fraÃ®che.
These days, crab cakes have joined that clichÃ©d triumvirate with sesame-seared tuna and warm chocolate cake, and L’Escale’s version vies for originality by grilling them “a la Plancha,” on a specialized Spanish griddle. Unfortunately, I detected more filler than crab. A bed of warm citrus-scented arugula salad is a winner though; in fact, all L’Escale’s greens are stellar, epitomized by the lemon-rosemary dressed romaine and “rucola” salad spiked with Asiago shavings.
And, now, for the carnivore alert: Prime your chops for the boneless quail, pan-seared to mahogany bliss. (By the way, you’ll need your chops to penetrate the accompanying fried montasio cheese cubes.) The one other lapse: a chicken paillard, impressive only in well-pounded girth. An entrÃ©e special of braised short ribs seems a summer anomaly, but the concentrated combination of rich meat and red wine glaze obliterated that notion. Beneath its lacquered veneer, duckling breast was succulent and mild, buttressed by caramelized pineapple oozing sweetness and the anise hint of basil mashed potatoes.
Young learned his seafood lessons well at the peerless Le Bernardin, his roasted red snapper the incontrovertible evidence. Paired with a crisp Sancerre, one of about 25 wines available by the glass on the predominantly French list, the robust filet and its tomato, squash and Spanish onion creates a squall of flavor to rival the mistral.
Could dessert be as fine? Happily, yes. The flourless chocolate cake is not molten, just airy and Valrhona-rich, the mint of its ice cream at laser intensity. The apple tart is straight out of Grand-maman’s kitchen, its caramelized fruit cradled in ethereal puff pastry. And then there is summer itself, embodied in the custard, gÃ©noise sponge and mousseline whimsy of a raspberry trifle. I can barely make room for the meringue petits fours, but I manage.
500 Steamboat Road, Greenwich, CT
Breakfast, 7-10 am
Lunch, 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Dinner, Sun. to Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm
Brunch, Sun. 11:30 am-3 pm