Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette, je te plumerai
I never learned French in school and now I wish I did. Not only would it have helped when I traveled to Paris (and as I will travel to Paris again next month!), but I think I would have a different perspective of French food. Today, Alex and I visited Alouette, a French bistro on the Upper West Side. I fully admit that I was really tired and didn't feel like shlepping all the way up to 96th Street - and on top of that, I wasn't really in the mood for French food, whatever that is - but this meal had me absolutely repenting and converted.
When we arrived at the small restaurant, I was immediately reminded of a bistro I ate at in Paris, complete with outdoor seating and dark wooden furnishing. Moreover, there was LIVE MUSIC (!!!), a man looking suspiciously like Anthony Bourdain strumming a guitar at the front of the house (side note: I've read four of Bourdain's books in a row, so maybe any gray-haired dude looks like the man in the photograph that adorns his books). The live entertainment already improved my mood after sweating it out on the crowded 3 train.
First things first: we had a Groupon. $39 for a shared appetizer, two entrees, a shared dessert, and two glasses of wine. Exciting much?! We shared an appetizer of phyllo-crusted shrimp and cannelini beans. I had the braised beef short rib in red wine sauce with root vegetables. Alex had the duck with orange sauce (does this make it duck l'orange?) with a potato cake, sausage, and carrots. We shared a creme brulee for dessert and a glass each of red and white wine.
The appetizer pleasantly surprised me...a lot. What I expected was a shell of phyllo dough, much like a thin tart crust, with shrimp and beans inside. What we received was a shallow bowl of beans in a tomato-based sauce, topped with what looked like three chunks of bird's nests! The phyllo was in a shredded form and encased each large shrimp. The phyllo was crunchy and savory, the shrimp was succulent, and the beans provided a more mild flavor and texture point at the other end of the spectrum. I was reminded of a mutant cousin of shrimp tempura (more consistent coating of tempura batter) and panko-breaded shrimp (more of a crumbly crunch). I really enjoyed this appetizer and I think as hors d'oeuvres for a party, someone should really endeavor to replicate these awesome shrimp.
When the waiter placed our entrees before us, we probably both thought, "Wow, they're being pretty stingy with Groupon users..." because the portions looked pretty small. However, it turns out after a shared-three course meal, the portions turned out to be just right.
My short rib was just...a rib sitting in a deep puddle of reduced red wine sauce and chopped root vegetables. I've only had ribs two ways: Chinese spare ribs in the styling of cha siew and barbecue-style. I love a good barbecue rib that's tender and saucy and fatty and won't hurt my teeth to eat, unlike some leaner Chinese spare ribs do. My hands-down favorite ribs ever? My co-worker and her husband make a mean barbecue rib. Oh it's good.
I digress. Alouette's braised short rib was nothing short of amazing (zing!). I've never had such a tender rib. Plus, I loved that there was no bone so I could just gobble up the whole thing (although it had some cartilage; I actually like chewing cartilage in meat). Really, my knife just sank into it like it was a hot poker, sizzling in the snow. The meat was rich and flavorful. I'm not exactly sure what a red wine sauce ought to taste like, but this one was good to accompany the meat. On the slight slight slight minus side, though, the veggies soaked up this sauce and somehow tasted quite bitter, soooo...that's why I'm not sure what a proper red wine sauce ought to taste like.
Alex's duck was another success: he said he may have found a new favorite duck dish (see: Trois Canards)! Competition! The duck was medium with a slightly pink center. Again, it was tender and very flavorful, purely ducky.
Finally, Alex desired creme brulee. He's a bit of a creme brulee connoisseur, so we had to try theirs out. It passed the sugar test - that you can rest a spoon on top of the sugar crust is a good sign that the sugar is thick enough. It also passed the breaking-the-sugar test - that you can break the sugar crust without too much effort is a good sign that the sugar isn't too thick. We devoured the creme brulee, though we noted that the custard had a different texture than usual. Maybe it was Alouette's unique spin on things, but the custard was far creamier and less gelatinous/flan-like than other creme brulees I've had, almost like a whipped cheesecake feel.
Sadly, I read on Alouette's website that they plan to close their UWS location at the end of the month. Something about real estate costs being too high in the city. So they're moving to Hoboken in October-ish! Not too much farther, you guys, so maybe a trip across the Hudson will be appropriate.