Curtain time for our evening performance of Swan Lake was 7:30 p.m. – half an hour earlier than in previous years. So M and I decided that instead of having dinner pre-performance, we’d have a late major lunch and then get something to eat after the ballet was over. (J and The Puzzle Genius would be joining us for the ballet; however, she was going to have a bite at home before the ballet, while he was going to have something at his desk.)
We chose Allegretti for our lunch. Since it opened about a year ago, it has become one of our favorite restaurants. We’ve been there three times for dinner, and I calculate that this would be our sixth time for lunch. So, at this point, we are “known to the house.”
Showing up promptly for our 2:15 p.m. reservation, we were warmly greeted by the new General Manager, Cynthia, and the receptionist, Sara. I asked about another receptionist, Meghan, and was told she was no longer working there. That wasn’t altogether a surprise for me. Her s.o., Martin Brock, was the chef at Atria, which closed several months ago. Cynthia informed us that he and Meghan were moving to California because he had obtained a position at Restaurant Gary Danko. The last time we spoke with Meghan, I had told her I was looking forward to eating at Atria because I had heard such positive things about Brock’s cuisine. Unfortunately, it closed before we managed to get there. But it was nice to hear that Brock has landed at a first-rate restaurant.
We’ve never found Allegretti to be very busy at lunch, and this time was no exception. Just two other tables occupied. But they were at the end of their meals and vacated shortly after we were seated, leaving us the sole diners in the room. Not that that bothered us in the least….
When we arrived, I noticed Chef Allegretti, dressed as always in chef’s whites, sitting at a table and chatting with a gentleman. When he finished, he stopped by our table to say hello. He is as gracious as he is handsome – and handsome he most definitely is! But more important, he is a supremely talented chef. Since this eponymous restaurant is his one and only “baby” (for now), he is always in the kitchen – at least, he has been every time we’ve dined there. After we had our chat, he repaired to the kitchen where, as I joked with M, he was “cooking for us.”
Not that we need any excuse, but one of the major reasons we chose to go to Allegretti was because with the coming of the summer season, the bulk of the menu was almost entirely new. There are two pasta holdovers which we’ve had previously. Actually, more correctly, in April, when J came with us for lunch, she had the Cavatelli with Sugar Snap and Spring Peas, Fava Bean, Tomato Confit, Herb Pistou, and Ricotta Salata. I tasted some of it. The cavatelli was cooked perfectly, the peas and beans provided a wonderful snap, and the cheese along with the confit and pistou added creamy Provençal flavors. A perfect spring dish!
The other pasta is one that Michael and I shared at a previous lunch earlier this year, the Niçois Ravioli Stuffed with Braised Oxtail and Swiss Chard, Parmesan and Orange Beef Jus. Though it does seem a tad heavy for summertime, the weather in these parts has been anything but sunny and warm, so this dish does not seem terribly out of place. And besides, it’s so sensational that who cares what the weather is like outside? Puffy clouds of pasta filled with delectable meat, resting on a mound of sautéed chard, and surrounded by a luscious orange-infused jus. Truly a died-and-gone-to-heaven experience!
In April, I started my meal with Chef Allegretti’s Spring Salad: Baby Artichokes “soto olio,” White and Green Asparagus, Fava Beans, Watermelon Radish, Shaved Goat Cheese, and Lemon Vinaigrette. (Note: J also had this salad.) The man is a master with vegetables, and that salad was both gorgeous to look and one of the most delicious combinations of textures and flavors I’ve ever had. Though that wonderful assemblage is now gone, there are several other inviting salads and other appetizers to choose from.
The one I selected to start this time was labeled, A Taste of Nice: Marinated Artichokes, Pissaladière, Zucchini Blossom Beignet, Radish with Tapenade, Vegetable “Farçi,” and Brandade Niçoise. A treat to the eye and the palate, the six items on this plate were a colorful variety of flavors and textures. The marinated artichokes managed not to be mushy. The zucchini blossom beignets were fried to greaseless and airy perfection. The vegetable “farci” was a small roasted pepper with an incredibly delicious lamb stuffing. The crunch of the radishes worked well with the soft tapenade. I was a bit leery of the brandade because those I’ve tasted in the past have been far too fishy for me. But in this case, the fish flavor was not overly strong. As for the pissaladière, it was different from the usual flat pizza-style with onions and other ingredients on top; instead, Chef Allegretti’s tasty version was like a square bun with onions baked into the center and garnished on top with what I’m guessing were Niçoise olives.
Last time, M began the meal with the Cochonaille – a delicious assortment of charcuterie with very tasty house pickles and marinated olives. This time, he went with something lighter, the Yellowtail Tuna Tartare, Scallions, Pistachio, Fava Beans, Cucumber and Tonnato Sauce. The tartare rested on a circular bed of wafer-thin cucumber slices with the tonnato sauce splashed artfully around the plate.
The tuna was crowned with a tangle of some vegetable (not sure what it was). A gorgeous presentation! Of course, I had to have a taste. The pristine tuna, chopped not too finely, was mixed with the scallions, pistachios, and fava beans – those three ingredients providing a very nice crunch. I thought I detected hint of citrus. Delicious!
On our previous visit, both M and I had the same main course: Alaskan King Salmon, Baby Vegetables “Barigoules,” Cranberrry Beans, and Tomato Confit. A spectacular piece of salmon cooked to juicy perfection with the skin very crisp along. I’m a sucker for vegetables cooked barigoule-style, and artichokes, fennel, and carrots that accompanied the salmon did not disappoint.
This time, M and I went in opposite directions from each other: he to the fish side of the menu (in keeping with his decision to “eat light’), I to the meat. He chose the Chatham Cod with Coco Beans, Stewed Artichokes, Clams, Brandade, and Herb Sauce. M pronounced the entire dish to be to his liking. I could understand why after tasting a morsel of the expertly cooked cod with its crisp skin.
My selection was the Grilled Lamb Chops with Ragoût of sweet peppers, Tapenade, and Socca Niçoise. When I was asked how I wanted my chops cooked, I replied as I always do, “As the chef prefers” — knowing full well that Chef Allegretti prefers them the way I do. No surprise then that they arrived with lovely grill marks and cooked to a medium rare “t.” Plus, the three meaty chops were succulent (just enough fat left on help that along) and had very lamb-y flavor. The socca niçoise was new to me. The exceedingly crisp, wafer-thin crepe – maybe it’s a flatbread? – was very tasty, as were the other more familiar accompaniments. A winner in every respect!
Following along the lines of this being a “major” lunch, we ordered a cheese course – the first time we have ever had one at Allegretti. Chef Allegretti told us that he selects cheeses which are representative of Provence, though not in all cases directly from there. The five on the plate we shared were as follows: Fleur de Marquis (Goat) from France, Ibores (Goat from Spain; Laurier (Goat) from the US, Pecorino from Italy, and Piave (Cow) from Italy. I like my cheeses fairly mild, and I found all of these very pleasing. We were rather mystified as to the nature of the very tasty accompaniment. Turned out they were marinated walnuts.
If there is a weak spot in the food at Allegretti, it might be the desserts, though I do think they’ve improved a lot since we started going there. And they are only weak when compared to the over- abundance of outstanding dishes in the appetizer, soup, pasta, and main course categories. The last time we had lunch in April, J was with us, and she and I shared the two desserts we ordered, one of which was the Baba with Lemon Verbena Rum and Strawberry Rhubarb Compote. It was fine in all respects, though we both agreed it would have been even better with more rum. When I mentioned that to Chef Allegretti after that meal, he said when he first starting serving it, the rum was much more pronounced; however, he got complaints from diners that it was too strong, so he dialed it back. I told him that when I’d had a baba at Ducasse’s Benoit, they’d provided a little pitcher filled with rum for those who wanted to add it. He said that was a good idea and if I had asked for more rum, he would gladly have sent some out. The baba is still on the dessert menu (in fact, the dessert menu has not changed at all), so I figured this was my opportunity to have it again with a stronger rum flavor.
Malhereursement, we were informed that the baba was not available. Thus, I did a repeat of the other dessert J and I shared, the Meyer Lemon Bar with Mascarpone Gelato. The bar was very creamy and very lemony without being too sour. The sablé crust upon which it sat added a very agreeable crispy counterpoint. The mascarpone gelato was sensational. The entire combination was like eating a luxurious lemon cheesecake.
M usually opts for the restaurant’s full-flavored gelato, and he did not stray from that path this time, selecting mascarpone, dark chocolate, and hazelnut.
M chose a half bottle of Tablas Creek Vineyard 2006 Esprit, De Beaucastel Blanc ($42), which he said went very well with his fish courses. And he capped the meal with a cappuccino.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the bread service. The server always comes bearing a basket holding the rolls. Last time, the roll was stuffed with black olives; this time, it was back to a plain one. But regardless of which roll it may be, I always look forward to them because they always couple a crisp crust with excellent interior flavor.
A few other changes to note. While tablecloths were never used at lunch, they have now been dispensed with at dinner as well, and during both services the dark wood tables now sport dark brown woven mats. Several tables with chairs have been added to the front bar area. And on the exterior of the restaurant, the former blue canopy has been replaced with a more eye-catching red one.
With regard to pricing, at lunch, one can now choose to have 2 courses for $24 or 3 courses for $28. At dinner, a 3-course prix fixe for $39 is available every day throughout the evening. The a la carte menu continues to be available at both meals, and all the dishes discussed here were from that menu.
After we had finished our meal and were relaxing a bit (diners are never rushed out), we chatted for a few minutes with Sara, after which, Chef Allegretti came out of the kitchen to ask how everything was. We, of course, heaped well-deserved praise on him for what was another extraordinarily delectable meal. With so many other wonderful things to choose from on the current menu, needless to say, we will be back!