Jules eats world.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Fuck Restaurant Week"

Marseille, Hell's Kitchen

That's what the server said to us as we were ordering. But let me back up:

Restaurant Week is one of those tourist-fueled New York institutions that some natives approach with caution. Sure, you get a 3-course meal at a top restaurant for $35 -- but does the chef throw something together haphazardly out of some leftover slop he's trying to get rid of in the kitchen ? Does the restaurant try to turn your table more quickly because the waiter knows you're not shelling out the big bucks?

Luckily, the answers at Marseille, a French brasserie, were no to both questions.

The room reminded me of other France-inspired joints in town: lots of burnished mirrors, high ceilings, curved booths. But the food ended up being less humble, less rustic, than a Balthazar or Pastis. Being uptown, the vibe was different as well: the crowd was older, headed to the theater; and the noise level was lower, the tables more widely-spaced.

We settled into a semicircular booth facing two chairs and were greeted by our waiter, a 50ish gentleman with spiked gray-white hair. I was excited to see a whole page of roses on the menu, since it's an overlooked wine, and ended up ordering a nice glass from Burgundy. Three of us went with the prix fixe RW menu, while my fiance, who I'll call Mr. H for our purposes, ordered a la carte. Hence eliciting the waiter's comment: "As we say in the kitchen...fuck restaurant week!"

With all due respect, of course.

So the three of us got a first course of wonderful, subtle smoked trout topped with fresh cilantro and slivered apples in some sort of cold green sauce. Which sounds unpleasant, but tasted fresh and summery. Mr. H got the grilled octopus in a vinaigrette, which as billed by our saucy waiter, was very good.

Main course for me was a tender and falling-apart duck confit, just as it should be, interestingly and not unsuccessfully paired with baby arugula, fresh corn and sauteed peaches. Mr. H's "golden snapper" melted in the mouth.

At desserts, unfortunately, Marseille had a misstep, at least in my case. What was billed as a carmelized banana tart came out deconstructed: raw banana with one caramelized side, biscuit, and vanilla (?) ice cream. Let's just say it wasn't an inspired interpretation. The others seemed to like their creme brulee.

So say what you will (and our waiter certainly did) about RW, it may not have boosted our Marseille paycheck, but it did prompt me to give the place a try. The food guaranteed I'll make another visit.


Anonymous bobdebx said...

Marseille, if you've ever been fortunate enough to set foot into this amazing, smelly, beautifull, disgusting city (there are a couple of adjectives here that don't apply to the eponymous NYC restaurant but we'll come to that) you know that it's like a Mille Feuilles; the multi-layered french dessert. If you ve never been to Marseille the city, well, guess what... you have to believe me, it's like a Mille Feuilles !!. And Mille Feuilles are very very very hard to make, and harder to reciprocate. So one would be a fool to think that the Marseille restaurant would transport you straight away into the rich complexity that the city conveys. I was fooled, in my hopes. they didn't last long. Marseille as a restaurant is clean, and well decorated enough to recreate a French bistrot atmosphere with a touch of Northern african influence. But the menu doesn't match the efforts made to decorate the place. The steack au poivre was excellent, but un-innovative to the point it 's cliche. The snails seemed more adventurous but very Un-Marseille. My point is ; the place doesn't match the expectations its name generates. So no excessive hopes, just a nice place for a decent good meal, with quality ingredients.

As for the wine, surprise surprise, if you pay attention to the generous wine list you may find a couple of affordable gems..

10:42 AM


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