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.

Restaurant Review: Bar Blanc

In case y'all can't tell, I'm as opinionated as all get-out. I provide my opinions on eateries across this fine ci-tay. Today, one of my restaurant reviews pops up here. Or below. Huzzah! Read it and eat. Ha! I'm so funny. So. Funny.

Superb French fare transcends a glossy lounge setting in Greenwich Village

Bar Blanc might suffer from multiple-personality disorder. Is it a lounge? Is it a restaurant? Is it a gimmick? Perhaps. Blanc is one of several haute eateries, from Bar Boulud to Bar Stuzzichini, hiding behind bottles of beer, wine and booze.

The thinking’s simple: Call yourself a bar, and the bar for food is set limbo low. How hard is it to trump chicken-wing expectations? But Bar Blanc’s pedigree demands more than finger-lickin’ success. Bouley vets Kiwon Standen, Didier Palange and chef César Ramirez bring fussy French style to this slender West Village hideaway that’s rustically mod and modern—and white as an Englishman’s chest after a long, cold winter.

A luxe marble-topped bar contrasts “Saturday Night Fever”–style white-leather banquettes and circular silver lights, while undulating albino-brick walls dominate both dining rooms. They’re populated by high-heels and high-rollers fingering iPhones and blabbing over clubby beats.

Euros and businessmen, welcome to your newest hangout.

Bar Blanc, blissfully, doesn’t go whole-hog with haughtiness. Though Internet chatter has chided waiters for inexperience and inattentiveness, service quirks are now ironed out. Waiters are attentive without being irritating (or forcibly up-selling bottled water), and bread-basket boys mill around, freely distributing tangy slices of olive bread.

Gratis treats are the rule, not the exception. Expect a petite puff-pastry amuse bouche crammed with goat cheese, which makes a marvelous precursor to the old-fashioned cocktail: a burly blast of bourbon and bitters, smoothed out by juice from bobbing oranges. It’s a serious intoxicator, and seriously worth $12.

Conversely, the apps ain’t a bargain. Boston lettuce, hearts of palm and a poached egg costs $12, and you’ll spend $18 for tuna sashimi with mushrooms, crispy burdock root, black truffle dressing and painterly swipes of intensely salty miso mixed with squid ink. Ingredient overkill? Perhaps, but a finer palate-provoker is the fried sweetbreads. They mingle with a rabbit terrine, greens and sheep’s milk ricotta in a crunchy-creamy tango that gives glands a glamorous spin.

Ramirez’s mash-ups extend to the flirting-with-$30 entrees, which are too diminutive to merit such a mark-up. Ginger amps up steamed snapper, tempered by a tofu puree and a shiso sauce clearer than tap water. Flaky cod wears a briny coat of saffron-mussel sauce.

The chef heads to the barnyard for the other current creature du jour: Twee “milk-fed porcelet” is served as fatty belly, loins ringed by lollipop-crunchy skin (which overwhelms the too-delicate cinnamon, star anise and orange sauce) and terrine. “It’s all the leftover bits from the pig’s head,” the waiter offers helpfully. It’s fried brown beyond all recognition, and is as innocuously delicious as any oil-singed morsel.

Carb-cravers can opt for a trio of pastas, including lasagna with braised lamb shoulder and fettuccini pasta with sinus-clearing, mustard-braised rabbit. Turned off by that wascally wabbit? Stick to the sturdy, charcoal-grilled strip steak. It’s juicy decadence with a dose of bone-marrow sauce.

That should red-line your richness meter. But should you crave a sweet finish, choose wisely: The Meyer lemon soufflé is middling, while the warm almond cake’s about as special as Paris Hilton. The home run is the bittersweet chocolate cake with a brittle candy cap, sided with salted caramel ice cream. Spoon up a dab of both and it’s sweet dreams, appetite.

You could follow dessert with an aperitif or two, but it’s best to get liquored-up in another saloon or lounge, not such a superbly executed restaurant.