On Bond Street just east of il Buco and Mile End Delicatessen is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, with Chef Matt Aiti helming the kitchen at this year-old establishment. I’ve visited a couple of times now, and have tried most of the menu now, which is firmly rooted in classic French dishes, with some interesting details and additions to lighten up what are usually on the heavier side (an approach imparted by Chef Matt’s time at Jean-Georges’ restaurants). The menu is also surprisingly well-priced, for New York and especially for the neighborhood (Lafayette is just around the corner).
I apologize in advance for some of the iPhone photos, the restaurant is pretty dimly lit (and as a result, not a bad date spot), and I am a fairly reluctant flash user. Here’s a rundown of some appetizers.
Bouchot mussels with a cream sauce with leeks and Aleppo chilis. I’m normally not a fan of mussels themselves, and even this version doesn’t make me a believer, but the creme fraiche that sits under that pile of mollusks is phenomenal. You will exhaust all the bread on the table trying to soak up that savory, spicy mess. Frankly, I was eating all the mussels just to get to the sauce on the bottom.
Cured foie gras with cranberries, figs, sea salt, and crumbs. If I get a choice, I like my foie gras pan-seared, but this creamy puck of chilled livery goodness is nothing to complain about. The figs and cranberries lend a necessary sweetness and acidity, and the fruit component changes seasonally to allow for whatever’s good during the year. I also swapped breads between this and the mussels, for a crustier bite to go with this buttery texture, and the more absorptive griddled brioche to slop up as much aleppo-spiked cream sauce as I could.Crispy frog legs with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, sunchoke, watercress, and garlic. The roasted bone marrow, topped with shallots, lemon, caper, and watercress. This is probably my favorite thing on the appetizer side of the menu. Bone marrow is already one of my favorite things in French cafe or bistro line-ups, something that (cardiovascular health permitting) I could eat for days. I’ve had it quite a few times al forno as well at Pizzeria Mozza, as well as in niche moments in Chinese cuisine. But what makes Le Philosophe’s version great is the addition of savory notes on top that blended into the melting richness of marrow, plus the citrus to cut through that a bit. The marrow is still the focal point, but there’s some other interesting stuff going on that doesn’t let the heaviness of the marrow get to you.The pork & duck terrine, as well as the duck rillette, (both not pictured) were also quite tasty. The terrine is quite rich, and the rillette (topped with an almost-gelatinous fennel-orange marmalade) a cousin to the duck à l’Orange.
On to the mains. Chestnut ravioli with broccoli, duck liver, brown butter sauce, and chilis. I was pleasantly surprised by the charred chunks of chewy duck liver (in its natural state, not as foie gras) atop each ravioli, which I like for that gamey sweetness. That chewiness and the crunch of the broccoli contrasted nicely with the nutty molasses of chestnut puree.The grilled flatiron steak with sauce bordelaise, with a side of fries and sauce choron. The beef was nicely charred, with flecks of finishing salt, and thinly sliced to accent how tender each medium-rare bite was, and to seemingly remove that dangerous decision of how large or small to cut your own chunks.My favorite main is the duck à l’Orange. The picture below is from Chef Matt’s class at De Gustibus, but I’ve also had the restaurant version, which is prepared the same but as a bigger cut. The fat is expertly rendered, with a crisp layer of seasoned skin. The syrupy orange flavor is still there, but in a subdued quantity, and balanced by the buttery spread of pommes mousseline and vague spiciness of turnips. As a shared dish, it was enough for a group of four (although we had shared quite a few appetizers as well).Last time I had dinner there, we tried the roasted monkfish, with tarragon, savoy cabbage, roasted mushrooms, and seaweed butter. The fish was meaty and succulent, with a thin golden layer coaxed out by high heat. I especially liked the cabbage, its chopped leaves providing both crunch and additional sweetness to an otherwise mild fish.For a lighter, vegetarian-friendly turn, we also tried the roasted trumpet royale mushrooms, generous pieces scattered over a bed of quinoa and piave cheese, alongside a streak of purée’d sweet potato. The quinoa was my favorite part – I could’ve had a bowl of that by itself, savory and fondant, with bursts of confit’d garlic.For dessert, the menu is somewhat simpler, homier. There isn’t the same fanciful offering of a higher-end place with a dedicated pastry chefs. Instead, the sweets are almost an extension of the savory dishes, pared down – no meringues or millefeuilles, no cakes or tarts in the traditional sense. Instead, a flaky crepe suzette with caramel-orange sauce (in keeping with the theme of à l’Orange) and an almost tartless version of the apple-y tarte tatin, with just a minimal disk of pastry next to a swath of sticky-sweet apple butter and a boule of vanilla ice cream.
I like Chef Matt and the restaurant’s workman approach to cooking great food in the context of some old-school French fare, without the sheen of pomp and privilege, no white tablecloths and no fine silverware. There’s a very accessible and economically-minded wine list (one night, we split a bottle of Côtes-du-Roussillon that paired nicely with the duck), as well as a delicious sparkling elderflower lemonade that I almost always get. Tony, the smiling, ebullient manager, runs a minimal crew of front-of-house staff that has been very welcoming and proficient. The desserts could be better, but I would come just for the savory stuff.
55 Bond Street (Bowery)