Restaurant Review: Bagatelle

Romantic French eatery offers yet another reason to avoid the Meatpacking District

It’s easy to harbor hatred about Meatpacking District dining. These once-bloody blocks are now a playground for the rich and, for some tastes, the despicable.

But that’s merely a matter of opinion. One man’s hell is another meathead’s heaven, which brings us to Bagatelle. This French newcomer comes courtesy of New Jersey Republican senatorial candidate Andrew Unanue. He also owns the adjacent Kiss & Fly, a DJ-driven club with bottle service, VIP tables and drinks costing double digits.

It’s what’s wrong with Manhattan. But is Bagatelle a cure?

Decidedly not, judging by the hostess’ cold, diffident welcome. To this, add flighty servers. Upon seating, they’ll disappear long enough for you to read the menu five times and dissect the decor. Columns dot the spacious, bleached-white room chockablock with chandeliers, glossy wood floors, techno pumped from an Apple laptop, the city’s few remaining celebrating i-bankers and sugar daddies dining with daughter-age blondes. Both the clientele and mood could be described as dim, if not mildly romantic.

Now, the menu: Bobo and Ducasse alum Nicolas Cantrel focuses on southern-France fare with contemporary flair. This means mounds of steak and enough seafood to stock a small lake. To begin, skip the highway-robbery salads—$10 for lettuce with vinaigrette!—and opt for a liquid precursor like Le Blues de Manhattan, which is Makers Mark mixed with muddled blueberries and blackberries, Chambord, and sweet vermouth; it creates a fruity, but not sweet, sucker punch that’s an instant brain buzzer.

Not looking to start with a $15 cocktail? Understandable. If price is a concern, forget the truffle-leek ravioli. It’ll run $18 for three limp, stuck-together pasta squares, stuffed with an oily leek mash. Sweet heavens, it’s a waste of truffles. Tastier by far is warm asparagus salad with blood orange or the raw-fish trio. Elegant little postage stamps of bass, salmon and tuna carpaccio—colorfully arranged on a plate like some obscure country’s flag—are delicately licked with lime, dill and cilantro. It’s sashimi with a twist, like the tuna tartare with a citrus-avocado salad. Or, if you prefer apps simple and satisfying, there are perfectly perfunctory plates of cheese and charcuterie.

Mains mainly tread the tried-and-true path. There’s steak au poivre sided with fries (seemingly quite popular with the button-down set), grilled rib eyes and even a $55 whole roasted chicken, kicked up in cost and flavor with requisite truffles. Seriously, you must be tripping to pay that much for mushrooms.

More worthy are the scallops with a citrus-balsamic reduction. “About half the people like it, while half the people hate it,” the waitress explained.

Does she like it?

“Well, yeah.”

You will too. The scallops are lightly seared, while the coal-hued reduction is a delicate interplay between forcefulness and grace. Go for it—and not the Thursday-night veal-stew special. It’s an over-rich orgy of butter and cream, meaty mushrooms and veal as bland and forgettable as Ryan Seacrest. Sigh, it’s such a waste of tender young flesh. Making matters worse, the stew arrives with a side of Sahara-dry brown rice.

Desserts offer a modicum of redemption. The profiteroles are fairly puffy, while the tiramisu, served in a cocktail glass, is fluffy and infused with strong currents of bitter espresso. However, it’s too little, too late, to save a subpar and excessively costly meal.