R5 Restaurant Review: La Panetière (4 Stars)

It was with a “show me” attitude that we came to La Panetière in Rye to check out some few discordant whispers amid the overwhelming roar of praise from countless foodies. Could it be true that La Panetière’s chefs were no longer inspired? Was it possible that the service was snooty? Did La Panetière overcharge and under deliver?

 

Our recent visit served to convince us that happily all—or almost all—is indeed well at this eatery, Westchester’s bastion of French culinary arts.

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Proprietor Jacques Loupiac is firmly in charge, looking after each and every detail like a mother hen. The fusion of exceptional food preparation, Gallic ambiance and polished service, keep La Panetière in the forefront of fine-dining establishments.

 

The inviting building, which dates back to the 1800s, is nestled amid grounds abloom in lavender and other familiar local and French plantings. A manmade gurgling brook adds to the pastoral charm. The building’s original owners, who were in the shipbuilding business, would almost certainly have approved of the tasteful metamorphosis and the recently added second floor atrium.

 

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The embellishments evoke Loupiac’s Provençal background. Symbolizing a warm home, the traditional panetière (bread cabinet) at the entry is replicated in the napkin holders at each place setting and menu holders at each work station. Authentically costumed Provençal dolls, crockery and other decorous touches are artfully displayed to please any Francophile. Only a curmudgeon like me would take note of modern concessions: air conditioning vents and celotax ceilings amid the authentic hand-hewn beams.

 

Dinner service begins with the chef’s complimentary amuse bouche for each patron, a sort of pre-appetizer. The evening we dined there, chef Christophe Philoreau’s fancy was strips of cured wild salmon accompanied by tiny, flavored aspic cubes and fresh asparagus mousse. If the amuse bouche’s purpose is to prepare your senses for a memorable culinary experience, it fully succeeded.

 

Among the flavorsome hors d’oeuvres was maquereau, mackerel prepared in the Spanish ceviche style, marinated raw and presented with a delicate ravigote sauce, caviar and a quail’s egg atop a nest of potatoes ($14.50). Another engaging starter from the sea was wing of skate, simple but deftly pan-fried with meunière butter and capers ($13). The natural distinctive flavor of skate was evident to the palate. The familiar but exquisite foie gras appetizer ($22) is simply pan-seared with a touch of port and garnished with apple compote. Paté ($16), a country duck terrine atop a salad composed of grilled quail, lobster meat and tartine of smoked foie gras, may contain familiar ingredients, but the result is rich nonetheless. Damn the cholesterol—full speed ahead.

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Among the array of delectable main courses was turbot roasted on the bone and enriched with the emulsion of pan drippings and olive oil, accompanied by tasty, dwarf shiitake mushrooms, fondant potatoes and fresh asparagus heads ($29)—a winner. La Panetière also created magic with tournedos of codfish ($24) and a sherry-laced chicken jus brandade puree ($26). Bouillabaisse ($28) with bay scallops, mussels, and cockles looked inviting and the aroma of a nearby stew of lobster and assorted shellfish in ginger and lime butter sauce beckoned temptingly. Maybe next time.

 

The breast of duckling ($29) arrived at our table crisp on the outside and medium rare on the inside, as requested. Served with a subtle coating of Armagnac sauce and accompanied with diced morsels of foie gras, it was pronounced “Better than La Tour Eiffel’s,” the legendary Parisian shrine to duck, by my companion who seems to know more about duck than Walt Disney.

 

One can often get a fair take on a restaurant’s abilities by the way it serves veal. The quality and preparation of La Panetière’s veal is indicative of its devotion to fresh, quality products and its determination to let natural flavors not fall victim to sauces nor the veal to be overwhelmed by accompaniments. La Panetière accomplishes this at every level.

 

Filet of beef, rack of lamb and chicken, too, are prepared with a minimum of fuss, and the emphasis is again on basic, natural tastes. Sauces and seasonings are utilized as accents to enhance rather than cloud flavors. La Panetière’s patisserie chef, Didier Berlioz, ably assists in holding aloft the banner of La Panetière. Rather than construct architectural ziggurat-like concoctions, which seem to be the order of the day at today’s trendy dining spots, Berlioz opts to emphasize the inherent goodness of the ingredients. Be forewarned. His dessert creations take you by surprise. Small, seemingly simple combinations produce bold, satisfying taste sensations.

“Chocolat Liegeois” cup filled with chocolate parfait, coffee granite and sauce is not, despite its descriptions, as complex nor as overdone as it sounds ($10.50). Vive le chocolat. Vive Berlioz. Oh, don’t overlook the fruit tarts, glaces, crème brûlèes, Napoleans and other classics which pay homage to Escoffier but have a Berlioz spin.

 

The service staff reflects its tutelage under Monsieur Loupiac, who incidentally served as maitre d’ at the esteemed La Crémaillère prior to embarking on his stewardship at La Panetière in 1985. Balancing professional demeanor with Gallic charm and blending it with just the right amount of friendliness is no easy task, but this restaurateur pulls it off. Staff anticipates every need gracefully. Even the filtered coffee (decaf or high octane) is served with a crock of warm milk in order to maintain le café’s proper temperature.

 

The superior service and excellent food helped to assuage memories of a less than inspired prix-fixe Mother’s Day luncheon that I attended this past May. One other complaint, which is less than niggling, is in reference to La Panetière’s wine list. With more than one hundred Bordeaux to select from, one could count on the fingers of one hand those priced under $45. Surely they can scout out a few more good, reasonably priced wines.

 

A couple can enjoy an exceptional dinner in elegant surroundings at La Panetière for about $125 (tax and tip but not wine included)—little more than the price of a dinner for two at an average continental restaurant, and this is by no means your average continental restaurant.

 

LA PANETIERE

530 Milton Rd., Rye

(914) 967-8140

 

HOURS:  

Lunch, Tue. to Fri. and Sun. 12-2:30 pm

Dinner, Mon. to Sat. 6-9:30 pm, Sun. 5-8:30 pm

 

PRICES:

2 courses: $48

3 courses: $62

6 course tasting menu: $78

 

RATINGS:

Food—VVVV

Service—VVVV

Decor—VVVV

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