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La Côte Basque (Closed)


Felonius
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A few weeks ago I posted a thread asking opinions on three of the grande dames of NYC French food that I’d never tried – La Cote Basque, La Caravelle, and La Grenouille.  

A discussion between my date and I over the weekend got us thinking about, and craving, chocolate soufflees.  So I got on the phone with a few French restaurants in NYC to see who still made the classic version.  As chance would have it, La Cote Basque was the only place open that had them on the menu, so I  decided to finally give LCB a try.

We arrived on a Sunday night at 9pm to find the dining room empty save for 3 other tables.  As I expected, the service was exemplary from start to finish.  The wine list was fairly comprehensive (in French wines at least) and priced with a lofty markup (250-350 percent) similar to that at other high-end places in NYC.  Consequently, there weren’t many interesting wine choices below $100, so I went a bit higher with a 1996 premier cru Chambolle-Musigny from an obscure producer I’d never tried before.  The wine was elegant and well balanced, though lacked the concentration and/or complexity I would have expected from a decent 1996 premier cru Burgundy.  It was more like a good villages wine really.   It might have been a good choice at half the price I paid. 

Now on to the appetizers.  My date had a seafood risotto with lobster, scallops and crab, which was quite rich and flavorful though a bit soft and mushy to qualify as first-rate risotto in my book.  The portion was huge – larger than many of the entrees I’ve seen lately - and one would have to have been a true gourmand to have eaten the whole thing knowing there was another course and dessert on the way.   Overall I’d give it a B or B+, with slight extra credit for not skimping on the lobster.   My appetizer was supposed to have been goat cheese and ricotta gnocchi with truffles and asparagus.   The gnocchi themselves were excellent if not traditional in their preparation.  They were extremely light and fluffy and wonderful in texture.  However, a dark brown “truffle” sauce contained no truffles or truffle flavor as far as I could ascertain, only some sort of mushroom or other fungus masquerading as truffles.  I didn’t feel like bothering to ask the waiter, but I did wonder what these were exactly and if they were perhaps a substitution of some sort.   Overall I’d give this appetizer a B, if only for the delicacy of the gnocchi.

As for the entrees, my date ordered a lamb special, which consisted of part of the rack accompanied by the saddle or similar cut.   At the waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the house specialty Tournedos of Beef (“Rossini” maybe?) with foie gras and truffle sauce.   All I can say is that both entrees were just really, really poor.   My filet arrived sandwiched between a potato pancake/galette thing that was a greasy and mealy blob with no flavor, and a piece of stringy and tough foie gras.  The whole concoction was drenched in a darker version of “truffle” sauce that seemed to be some sort of beef reduction with no hint of truffle flavor.   The filet itself was cooked nearly to the point of well-done and most of it was stone gray throughout with no sign of pink left (I had asked for it rare to medium rare).  I’ve had a more satisfying piece of beef at the Holiday Inn dining room, to put it frankly.  The only way I can describe the aroma of the whole concoction was that it was vaguely reminiscent of Alpo dog food in the can.  This dish gets an F.

Although I only tried one bite, my date’s lamb entrée seemed only slightly better.  Her attempt to cut me a piece of the rack took considerable effort as the meat was so tough. Again, everything was drenched in a one-note reduction sauce that covered any flavor that may have been hiding in the lamb. Maybe a D for this one.

And now for the desserts.   We had really come to La Cote Basque for soufflees, and in this area we were not disappointed.  My date had chocolate and I tried Grand Marnier.  Both were textbook perfect examples of the classic recipe, and could not have been lighter, fluffier or more satisfying.   If only more restaurants still offered this nectar of the gods!  

I hate to be so harsh on a restaurant, but I there is no way for me to sugar coat my feelings for the entrees we had.  They went beyond mediocre into the realm of downright unpleasant.  At $68 per prix fixe menu, I will never return to LCB, even though the service was perfect, the appetizers were OK, and the soufflees fantastic.  I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed with a high-end restaurant.  

The décor is also a bit like the land that time forgot.   Those murals that all the Zagats reviewers find so romantic I thought were a bit cheezy, as was the 1970’s acoustical tile ceiling and mini escutcheoned table lamps.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I suppose.  

I am sure a place such as La Cote Basque has its regular clientele (how else could it survive?), who are perfectly happy plunking down $100+ per person for a formula that has probably not changed over many years.  Why they would continue to do so, with so many other better options in NYC will remain a mystery to me.  Perhaps it is the excellent service or the overall ambience that is appealing to these customers.   As for me, I will leave this place and others that I have heard are similar (La Caravelle, La Grenouille) to the diehard fans, and save my money for the newer generation of French restaurants such as Bouley and Café Boulud.    My romance with the grande dames of NYC French food has ended after the first date…..

In another thread on this topic, I heard that Steven Shaw is a fan.  I'd be very curious to hear why.  Am I missing something here?

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The best souffles in NYC, by far, are at Le Absenthe (an E 60s bistro).  Only a souffle of the day, but they are really tremendous, with a pumpkin souffle I had last fall topping them all (save a Green Apple souffle in calvados sauce I once had at Napa in Vegas).

A very, very good textbook chocolate souffle is at Etats Unis and, of course, the Four Seasons has wonderful souffles as well.

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Liza - no I did not really consider sending back the filet.  Had I been in a place that I frequent or thought they could do better, I would have done so without hesitation.  However, the food was so far off the mark, I figured no amount of complaining  was going to get me where I wanted to go with that entree.   I know this may sound weird, but I almost felt sorry for them.  The waiters were working so hard to provide four star service, yet the product from the kitchen wouldn't rate one star in my book.   I felt as if they've been doing this routine for so long, that they really didn't know any better.  Of course I probably should have felt sorry for myself as I dropped close to $400 for a meal that I would gladly have traded for one from any number of decent (and inexpensive) French bistrots in Manhattan!

Thanks for the tips on other places with soufflees.  I had thought of Four Seasons, but they are closed on Sunday nights.  Never tried Petite Auberge or L'Absynthe but will keep those in mind next time the craving hits.

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It was I who accused Steve Shaw of being a fan (I definitely did read a positive review by him);  sorry if my invocation if him led you to a bad meal.

As I said on that other thread, I've been to LCB half a dozen times and was delighted with every meal;  I'm really disappointed to hear about your crappy entrees.  I hope you drop them a letter, with a copy of this post if nothing else.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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How very disappointing, Felonius.  I have done okay at La CB in the past.  I wonder if their kitchen is worse on Sunday nights than on other nights?  By the way, I am with TCD on Capsouto Freres: sweet place, but don't touch the food.

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By the way, I am with TCD on Capsouto Freres: sweet place, but don't touch the food.

Wilfred,

I didn't post that (just someone who has taken a liking to "my" avatar), although I wouldn't disagree with the statement much.  With respect to LaCB, I've always had a very fine dining experience there.

The Critical Diner

"If posts to eGullet became the yardstick of productivity, Tommy would be the ruler of the free world." -- Fat Guy

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  • 1 year later...

Seeing as I was treated more poorly at La Cote Basque than any other place I have dined in the city (not a surprise given its heritage) I will not shed any tears.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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I have a subscription to The Observer and this it first time I've noticed Bryan Miller's byline. Is this a new gig for him? Or is it me, not paying attention, as usual?

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Was la Cote Basque still a four star restaurant? When was it last reviewed in the Times and by whom? I though it was a very interesting article and rather three dimensional. Of course there's always more that can be said about anything. Times change and they change must faster than they used to. There are not a lot of venerable old restaurants around. There may not even be a lot of old restaurants around. People are fickle. Tastes change. Young people don't yearn to become their parents let alone their grandparents. You're far more likely to find some gastronomic codger looking for the hippest food, than you are to see see people eating in the places they associate with their parents. There's also the problem with any restaurant that is seen as favoring it's loyal clientele. It doesn't enourage a new clientele in an upwardly mobile society. Ultimately though, it's the economy.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I will say, however, that I hope someone can save those beautiful murals.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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It just goes to show that in today's Atkins-crazy environment, French cuisine has become a thing of the past. (at least, French cuisine as represented by NY-area chefs.)

Oh yeah, it's all Atkins' fault. :huh:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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It just goes to show that in today's Atkins-crazy environment, French cuisine has become a thing of the past. (at least, French cuisine as represented by NY-area chefs.)

Oh yeah, it's all Atkins' fault. :huh:

=R=

You would think the Atkins craze would affect Italian restaurants more than French. My understanding is that pasta is just about the worst carb (worse than rice, potatoes, and bread.)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Actually, there appears only to be 5 "Extraordinary" (4 star) restaurants in the NYT database:

ADNY, Bouley, Daniel, JG, Le Bernardin.

Lespinasse was a 4-star at the time of its closure.

NYT Best Restaurants List

(note, this list is pretty outdated, there are quite a few closed restaurants on this list and many new ones aren't on it, or have upgraded/downgrade ratings since this was done)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Actually, there appears only to be 5 "Extraordinary" (4 star) restaurants in the NYT database:

ADNY, Bouley, Daniel, JG, Le Bernardin.

Lespinasse was a 4-star at the time of its closure.

NYT Best Restaurants List

(note, this list is pretty outdated, there are quite a few closed restaurants on this list and many new ones aren't on it, or have upgraded/downgrade ratings since this was done)

In The Fourth Star, they refer to the fact that generally only 4-5 restaurants hold the 4-star rating at any one time.

It just goes to show that in today's Atkins-crazy environment, French cuisine has become a thing of the past. (at least, French cuisine as represented by NY-area chefs.)

Notice all of the 4-star restaurants are French?

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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La Cote Basque’s closing makes me sad. I went there with my Mom on this past Mother's day. I thought the entire experience, including the food, wine, and service, was wonderful. The menu was a great mix of both traditional and contemporary cuisine. On the other hand, I haven't gone back since then. When work spurns a jacket and tie, it is more difficult to go to restaurants that require them. So while the restaurant closing disappoints me, it does make a lot of sense for it to change to a more casual restaurant.

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