PHOTO BY JOHN FORTUNATO
A French classic: cassoulet as prepared by Vox
Recently, in America, French cuisine has gotten a bad rep. Oh, it was all right in the beginning, when “French food” was shorthand for quality, but, inevitably, fickle diners began to tire of France’s world domination in dining. It’s unfortunate that, with so many of today’s diners, the French classics bear the musty whiff of history.
Cue the revamp of what once had been North Salem’s swank Auberge Maxime, a pretty, white-stuccoed French restaurant snuggled by a bucolic crossroads on winding Titicus Road. In 1977, Bernard le Bris—brother of Vox’s current owner, Jean le Bris—opened Auberge Maxime, where tuxedoed waiters served canard á la presse and soupe à l’oignon Chablisienne. Taking the reins in 2004, Jean le Bris re-named the restaurant Vox Bar & Restaurant. He scaled down its fanciness and gave it (thankfully) an understated cinematic theme, which is limited to photographs of movie stars and an opening snack of popcorn. The quaint restaurant, operated with the help of his wife, Sophie, has a globe-lit terrace and a pretty rear garden that still beckon with the charm of a French country retreat—but gone are the suggestions of grandeur. Walking into the bar, you might be greeted by the jeans-clad le Brises. They’re pouring drinks, polishing glasses, and passing the evening with their regulars.
While Vox is not pretentious, its prices are about what the market in this tony neighborhood will bear. Two thin strips of seared foie gras were smoky, hot, and bursting, but they were dearly priced at $19. Six oysters arrived thoroughly rinsed (and tasting of North’s Salem’s tap water), a disappointment at $15.
While Vox once enjoyed a reputation for its raw bar, currently, the oysters, clams, and shrimp of the $70 “Le Bateau” are bulked up with crab salad and tuna tartare. The last, ordered separately, arrived pale and a bit gristly, stranded on a wasabi crouton in an overwhelming pool of sweet hoisin. Better was a special starter of goat-cheese croquettes, simply crusted, fried, and served with a mesclun salad.
Mains were a step up and included simple, but tasty, classics like cassoulet—a black and sustaining stew of beans and sausage graced with duck leg confit. The dish arrived with a pleasantly crisp layer of breadcrumbs and was just the thing for a cold winter night. And a grilled rib eye with crisp haricots verts was satisfying, especially with potato gratin. In the same vein, roasted duck with cherries in a brandy sauce was pleasantly old fashioned, and as familiar as a friend.
Not only does Vox offer a children’s menu, which, I imagine, is popular in summer when the rear patio beckons to parents with active kids, but its menu also lists a burger served in brioche with Gruyère cheese, tomato, and french fries. The fries are crisp and, upon being bitten, the burger jets juice as if from a central compartment. It’s good—once you remove the unripe tomato—and probably even better eaten alfresco on a summer night.
Vox’s wine list is French-focused, though you’ll find picks from most of the other major wine-producing regions. It feels like a kindness that one can drink well and cheaply here; there are several appealing bottles in the $50 to $70 range.
Desserts hew toward classics with mixed success. The snowy meringue of île flottante was spotted with unwelcome praline, while a tarte tatin was soggy and its pastry stale. Best was a molten chocolate cake whose interior was fudgy rather than molten. Diners might also end with one of Vox’s dessert wines, Armagnacs, cognacs, whiskeys, or ports—perhaps paired with Vox’s cheese plate.
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Vox Bar & Restaurant 2 and 1/2 â˜…
721 Titicus Rd, North Salem
(914) 669-3450; voxnorthsalem.com
Hours: lunch, Thurs and Fri noon-2 pm; dinner, Wed and Thurs 5:30-9 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30-10 pm; Sun 1-8:30 pm
Appetizers: $8-$19; entrées: $15-$33; desserts: $8-$9
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good