BY ELENA MANCINI
Even though the New York City restaurant scene has experienced a series of revolutions (read: Batali, Vongerichten and David Chang to name a just handful) since that day in 1964 in which Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were photographed underneath the awning of Le Perigord, this delightful Beekman-Place-neighboring flagship continues to shine as an oasis of Classic French cuisine and hospitality. For those whose celebrity-royalty radars don’t stretch that far back: think Brangelina of the sixties and seventies only more glamorous and far less self-conscious.
Le Perigord has retained a great deal of the formal elegance of Classic French’s heydey. Diners who enter the intimate and softly-lit dining room are welcomed by Gallic waiters donning bow ties and smoking jackets, who greet you in French. While the sartorial choice of jeans and a T-shirt might well feel out of place in this solid four-and-a-half decade old flagship of Classic French cuisine, the cordial staff is at a far remove from the stuffy and snubbing sort that rightfully remain the object of caricature. Le Perigord, which is still managed and graciously hosted as a labor of love by its owner of forty-five years, Swiss-born, Georges Briguet, is a neighborhood restaurant that continues to attract a loyal Sutton Place following and UN diplomats, as well as those who appreciate quality and Old World refinement without the noise and hustle that is typical of trendier establishments on the average yelper’s circuit.
A recent guest at an industry dinner hosted at Le Perigord, I experienced a solid cross-section of its seasonal menu with a five-course dinner. While the menu consisted predominantly of beloved classic French dishes, it also featured a few less traditional items, in which a more of Mediterranean influence could be detected. This point of a largely classical feel peppered with measured contemporary impulses point captures the essence Le Perigord, which remains a bastion of Classic French cuisine that seeks to incorporate enhancing innovations.
Tempering the French culinary hardline with carefully-weighed updates is Executive Chef, Joël Benjamin, a native of Brittany and seasoned veteran of French cuisine, whose previous career distinctions include Picholine and Lutece.
The Peekytoe lump crabmeat roll was light and scrumptious and a positive departure from the more conventional dishes. The thin, flaky crust was without a hint of greasiness, and the delicate, meaty crab filling evoked Asiatic textures and aromas. A supple lobster jus tied all of the flavors together punctuating a pleasing balance of tastes.
An exceptionally noteworthy course was the the turbot with Comte crust and champagne sauce. No one flavor overpowered this highly refined entree. Covered in a thin coat of of Comte cheese the turbot was thick and not overcooked. The Comte was beautifully wedded with a champagne sauce that ensured sweet-tangy flavors with every bite. The 2007 Chateauneuf de Pape blanc of Chateau Mont-Redon with which it was paired made this course sumptuous slam dunk.
Veal medallions with spring morel mushrooms were a decadent triumph–and this from someone who generally does not favor veal. The meat was velvety tender and the generously strewn plump fragrant morels infused every bite with seductive, earthy flavors.
The only slight misstep in the experience was a comparatively underwhelming seasonal appetizer course of grilled white asparagus with Parmesan cheese and basil infused oil. The asparagus was stringy and a touch overdone, but apart from that the overall dining experience was memorable and stood out for the gustatory pleasures it yielded and warm, attentive service and distinctive hospitality throughout.
Tabs are on the pricer side of the spectrum, but well within range for the experience. A $32 three-course prix-fixe lunch is an alternative way to indulge yourself while being gentle on the wallet.