La Petite Auberge, July 8, 2005

La Petite Auberge
116 Lexington Ave.

I worked from home today in an effort to get some work done around the house. During a much needed lunch break before a 2pm conference call, I went next door to take advantage of the $17 prix fixe lunch menu at La Petite Auberge.

I've had dinner here before with my family when we first moved to the neighborhood, Danna's grandparents used to dine there regularly back in the day and I assume that their dining experiences twenty five years ago are similar to what you get today. It's a time capsule of sorts. And that's great to see, especially in an area dominated by Indian/Pakistani restaurants.

The restaurant reminds me more like an old French countryside home than a restaurant, neither evoking a sense of bistro nor brasserie, which it should just by the literal translation ("little inn"). Its basic, no nonesense and hearty french cooking mimics the ambience of the room. Jean Georges this is not.

I was the first person in the restaurant and was promptly welcomed by Raymond (the other owner, Marcel, was in France - according to a phone call conversation I overheard) and offered to put my umbrella in the rack. I was sat at a two top to the left and appropriately sat in the 1 position, facing the front of the restaurant to see the incoming patrons.

I was given both the prix fixe and a la carte menus and quickly ordered so that I could get back to my conference call.

I ordered the potage du jour, a lentil soup; the chicken of the day, a chicken breast with mustard sauce; and for dessert, creme caramel.

The lentil soup came in a small but deep bowl and was served with an ample amount of lentils - of which I think some but not all, were du Puys. The soup was good. Not great, but good and slightly cooler in temperature than I like my soups. But otherwise it was fine.

The chicken breast and mustard sauce was, truth be told, nothing at all special, but for $17 for three courses, I wasn't expecting ground breaking advances in cuisine. The chicken breast was pre-sliced for my ease of dining, and was juicy enough but probably not the best quality chicken I've ever come across.

The mustard sauce was so rich with butter that the butter nearly overpowered the mustard. A simple sauce that has been recreated better in my own kitchen, but certainly passable. It was served with haricots verts and rice. The greens were fine and also quite buttery but the rice was awful and nothing worth eating.

The creme caramel was simply delicious. Wow. One of the best versions of this dish that I've ever had. Sometimes the caramel gets overcooked on this dish and thus gives off a burnt-like taste, but not this time. Perfectly made creme caramel that I'd consider going back for even if it meant as a take out for dessert at home. Yum.

Service had its ups and downs. The captain, who I remember from my last visit, lives and breathes the restaurant and is very comfortable in his surroundings. The waitress was, for the most part, awful. I believe she was a French student visiting New York, and it looked like she was a caged animal. She was visibibly nervous when I asked her what the wines by the glass were (not listed in the wine menu). She even had a coughing fit as she was bringing out my food (possibly the only thing, other than a sneeze, that you don't want to hear as you are being served your meal). She really was a train wreck. The good news is that I doubt she will ever work the dinner shift.

The bill took forever to get, and with only five patrons in the restaurant, there was no excuse for the delay in getting me my bill.

Nonetheless, a three course lunch, glass of wine (an unknown cabernet) cost $27 after tax. Not bad at all and worth it, even beyond the glitches mentioned above. I will go back here again for the relatively inexpensive food, proximity to home (maybe 15 paces) and the old-school charm of the place.


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