199 Prince Street 212.335.0566
May 14, 2013
There will be fights on Prince street over the French onion soup burger on the menu at Chef Paul Denamiel’s Little Prince. Buyer beware, order your own. It is no surprise that when looking for a French bistro, Soho seems to attract them as they do supermodels. This is a natural marriage of fashion and French cuisine.
And what a welcome addition it is. The room is charming, cozy and simple, with some French art mags hanging on wall racks, a large floral arrangement centering the bar, and long banquet style seating flanking the very open windows facing the passersby. What you get is a subtle transportation to Paris aided by Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. The formulaic bistro model resists corporate cliché however, and is buoyed by the friendly service and fine Parisienne style food.
The menu is concise, but hits the classics, as evidenced by ordering two dishes that let you know if the kitchen is on its game, tartare de boeuf and soupe a l’oignon gratinee.
The filet mignon is bright and satisfying, kept simple with quail egg. At first you notice the dish is correct, well executed. Then you are sword fighting with your tablemate, trying to politely leave a smidgen so as not to seem greedy. The French onion soup is a revelation, fragrant emmenthaler fromage enhanced by the acidity of the chardonnay with plenty of bread to sop up the broth. This dish is also tough to share, as evidenced by the race to get to the bottom, and the obligatory peeling off the cheese from the crock pot. There is a beet salad and vegetables with cous cous, but my mind is still on the opulence of the frisee aux lardons, a bit wet in style but delicious nonetheless.
There are two types of steak on the menu, and although portion size is not impressive, the quality picks up the slack. The steak au poivre is 28 days dry aged, and Creekstone Farms NY strip benefits. The everyman’s culotte steak frites is the better value, one because it comes with fries, and two for the price tag. Pommes Frites is fried in garlic oil properly and is habit forming. Pass on the pommes puree with the consistency of baby food. Macaroni au gratin can be had as a side dish and is also quite good and creamy.
The canard au sautoir, Hudson valley duck breast, is a healthy portion, atop endive a cippolini, and probably best in show.
There are usually two fish dishes offered per night, but was sold out twice (I tend to dine very late). I will check le poisson in the near future.
Which brings me back to the onion soup burger, and instant classic and so French, I didn’t have time to wipe the mustard from my chin. I wish Chef would implement a prix fixe three course meal. In my opinion, this is the best way to dine a le Parisienne.
The three deserts I have tried were underwhelming. From riz au lait that did not achieve the right texture, to a brownie that was on the restrained side. A tartine de pommes was also a bit demure. And although I like cookies from Jacques Torres, pairing it with rum infused milk concoction doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot. More decadence is required here.
The wine list is in its infancy, but is promised to expand. The prices are very reasonable and the cocktails have already been shaken, although prepare to wait for your drinks. Every time I have been there chef Paul has been out of the kitchen chatting with friends and partners a little more than I would like. One night the relaxed atmosphere turned a bit too clubby for my taste. I imagine the well wishers will dissipate and Chef will be left to focus on the kitchen. One evening the timing of the food was off and the entrees arrived fifteen minutes apart.
Many of the tables are set very close together, infringing on true intimacy, and so take a shot at the very limited seating at the bar. That is when you can isolate and transport across the Atlantic, as lingering for the evening is a very French idea.