Alain Allegretti excels at charging large sums of money for French food, so I did a double take when I saw his affordable menu at La Promenade Des Anglais.
The chef earned his bona fides in exorbitant pricing at Le Louis XV in Monaco, where mere vegetables can cost 80 euros ($107). He launched his eponymous Manhattan flagship in 2008, with just two entrees below $30 at the time of my review. It didn’t take long to close.
Now the Frenchman is serving homemade potato chips in West Chelsea. No dish is over 30 bucks.
Not so fast. Allegretti’s most affordable establishment to date, La Promenade isn’t necessarily a steal. Those chips cost $16. They’re for scooping up sweet shrimp, raw and scented with lemongrass. The salty affair goes down easier with a bright, bitter lavender lemonade, redolent of Provence’s signature flower.
There are no amuses, no tasting menus, no tablecloths or other good fabrics to keep the noise level in check. The cacophony notwithstanding, La Promenade instantly ranks among the city’s better Southern French restaurants, serving the highly aromatic fare of Nice.
And hamburgers. Take a pass on the $19 short rib burger, however tasty it might be.
You’re here for the Cote D’Azur -- the $14 seafood soup, for example, that tastes like the Mediterranean boiled down with saffron, rockfish and garlic.
Some will visit La Promenade for the scene: Six-foot-five models who surely frequented this space when it was still Amy Sacco’s Bette; these gaunt members of the ceviche-set will feast on honeyed ricotta (good), salt cod crostini with prosciutto (great) and bluefin tuna (outstanding), the latter paired with veal sweetbreads for a great vitello tonatto riff.
Such lofty surf-and-turf should be consumed with $19 flutes of Paul Goerg. That’s a good enough deal; La Promenade’s wine list hits the right pricing notes. Gallery-goers and owners will find Champagne starting at $70 the bottle; Laurent Dauphin Brut is just $15 by the glass.
The Zind-Humbrecht Riesling ($85) is an unusually smooth gem from Alsace, with just enough tang to cut through the oils of harissa-marinated swordfish ($29), but not too much acid to push the tomato-heavy menu into heartburn territory.
Allegretti shows off the bright side of tomatoes with trofie pasta and tuna belly ($20). He makes it a vehicle for smoky chorizo in a warm salsa for ratatouille raviolini ($19). He even dabbles in old-school red saucery, giving diners a concentrated pork ragu, a chewy, meaty cloak for soft gnocchi ($19).
Nice has always boasted an Italian flair; La Promenade respects that tradition by serving firm pasta, an outlier in a world of overcooked French noodles.
Striped bass arrives and you start sniffing. What is it? Truffle leek bouillon. Allegretti treats proteins like a parfumier, scattering powerful scents every which way.
The heady aroma of Espelette breadcrumbs helps rescue an average pork loin ($28). Are the frog legs bland? Not at all; they’re just a whiteboard for the punch of garlic cream.
Dessert intoxicates further. Pumpkin spice donuts are the right call. Avoid the 1980s-style chocolate “lava” cake and a saccharine grapefruit tart. The baba -- a rum soaked sponge cake that reeks of orange -- is $10, precisely $25 less than what Le Louis XV charges in Monaco. I’m sold.
Rating: ** 1/2
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Nothing over $30.
Sound Level: Boisterous, often over 80.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Fish soup is a must.
Special feature: Close to the High Line park.
Will I be back? Yes.
La Promenade des Anglais is at 461 W. 23rd St. Information: +1-212-255-7400; http://www.lapromenadenyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)