New York City can be a harsh place for restaurateurs; diners are demanding, their palates are well educated and we just simply will not stand for sub par service. So how exactly does a restaurant survive in the Big Apple when during a good year the fail rate is two in every three? This is the question that every budding restaurateur should ask of Georges Briguet.
Mr. Briguet is the owner of Le Perigord; an Upper East Side classic that turned 45 on April 1st of this year.
Susan Rike, Le Perigord’s press agent invited us to dine with her so we could get to know the restaurant and get just a little closer to the secret of its success.
The facade of the restaurant is unassuming, you may miss it if not looking for it. Upon regarding the entrance, you get a sense of sophistication, discretion and simplicity. As soon as we walked in we were warmly greeted by Mr. Georges Briguet (who owns the restaurant along with his son). We felt immediately at home and were shown to our table. As we sat to our six course tasting menu we began to get a feel of one of the reasons for the restaurant’s staying power. Sure the restaurant was elegant and proper, but Georges seemed to know everyone by name. As he went from table to table, one could tell that each guest enjoyed his brief visits and felt genuinely at home.
Our course began with Foie gras with Sauterne aspic. What a decadent way to start the evening; it was paired with a Chateau Prost 2003 Sauternes: a classic pairing that set the mood for the evening. The second key ingredient to Le Perigord is the service. It is one of those traditional restaurants that is willing to invest on a seasoned professional staff. The three gentlemen that took care of us that evening were not actors or models. They are professional servers who understand just what service should be. Alex Hary, our Maitre D’, took the time to to explain the dishes we ate and why wines were selected for their pairings. He’s been at Le Perigord for 5 years and works very closely with Georges. He was there to accommodate our needs and allergies for some. It makes an incredible difference to have one person overseeing your comfort and two others assisting him. Maybe something that you may not need every night, but something that leaves you feeling truly special.
Our second and third courses were both seafood dishes. We were served grilled lobster in a coriander broth and black seabass with spring morels and white asparagus. I left nothing of the lobster behind and the seabass shined. Everyone at the table seemed to love the seabass dish in particular. Substitutions were made for those who were allergic to shellfish with ease.
Georges explained that although the restaurant does not offer official wine pairings, that they can easily create one on the spot. (Our pairings for these courses were Les Tulieres 2008 Sancere from Michel Redde and Chateau Mont-Redon’s 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape).
When we asked Georges about his choice to stick with classic French dishes (such as our next course: lamb loin in a pastry crust, courtesy of Executive Chef Joel Benjamin) he started with a funny story about the Nouvelle cuisine trend that New York had gone through. He explained that his friends and reviewers told him he was crazy for not switching to smaller portions and cutting back on butter and cream. He told us how “Nouvelle cuisine you get a beautiful dish, a big beautiful dish, and they give you two spoons on that plate and everybody was starving. So those restaurants they lasted four, five years; they all went out of business”. Basically, at the end, people kept coming into his restaurant. He told us that what people truly wanted was a warm, comforting meal that satisfies the taste buds and leaves the belly full. People quickly tired of dishing out high prices that left them hungry. He told us that they came back to the food they have grown to love. At this point, I was beginning to think I should have worn pants with an elastic waist.
Our last dish was the piece de resistance: Canard roti aux a l’orange. The roast duck came whole on a serving table. It was carved table side and the aromas of duck quickly filled my nose. Just when I thought I could go no longer, I made a little extra room, took a deep breath and took a bite of this deliciously prepared animal.
As I enjoyed the succulent bite I thought about pricing and just how accessible a fancy French restaurant would be to a young New Yorker (or a bridge and tunnel foodie) on a budget. Susan read my mind and informed us that the restaurant offers a Prix-fixe lunch menu for a $32 and dinner for $65. These prices are a bargain for anyone who dines regularly in New York.
I did not make it to dessert, but someone at my table raved about how the souffle was just the way her mother made. I went home happy and was thrilled to find Madeleines to take home.
Le Perigord is a restaurant that should be visited in order to find out what classic service is made of: tradition, proper service and warmth. The restaurant is efficient without letting you know it. It is a place where your Captain and waiters will be decked out in jackets, so make sure to dress the part. The feel is cultured yet it retains a feeling of warmth and sincerity. Le Perigord has a touch of old New York that everyone should experience. I wish they could offer discount coupons but that goes to my wishlist.
Le Perigord is located at: 405 East 52nd Street (Between First Avenue and FDR Drive) New York, NY 10022. For reservations call (212) 755-6244