Edward W Batchelder

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Le Bateau Ivre
230 E. 51st St. (at Third Avenue), New York City

logo for Le Bateau Ivre

Lovers of French poetry, or at the very least of French wine, will want to stop by Le Bateau Ivre, a new restaurant with the look of a sleekly elegant Parisienne bistro a vins. With inset mirrors marked off by warm wood trim, and high shelves stacked deep with wine bottles, the restaurant announces its goal of offering the largest selection of French wines under one roof.

Le Bateau Ivre’s name comes from the seminal nineteenth-century poem by Arthur Rimbaud (look for his pictures on the wall opposite the bar), and the restaurant does for New York dining what Rimbaud’s masterpiece did for French literature—it revolutionizes it. Where most restaurants treat the wine list as merely an honored appendage to the meal, at Le Bateau Ivre it takes center stage. Sommelier and general manager Laurent Gallais Pradal offers a list of over 250 wines (most available by the glass), twenty Champagnes, and a smaller number of well-chosen ports, sherries, aperitifs, and beers.

Tucked inside the wine list is the slimmer menu of light dishes and grilled main courses, carefully chosen by executive chef Jean-Claude Coutable (formerly of Regine’s) to complement the wine.

As might be expected from a restaurant whose name translates as “The Drunken Boat,” seafood takes a dominant position. Plates of fresh crab, lobster, little neck clams, periwinkles, oysters and caviar make up nearly half the offerings, culminating in the namesake “Le Bateau Ivre”—a sampling of all of the above plus a bottle of Gros Plant.

The restaurant’s specialty, though, are the tartines—a traditional French countryside favorite reconfigured by Coutable into a delicacy. Essentially an open-faced sandwich, Le Bateau Ivre’s tartines come on Poilane-style bread and are distinguished by the restaurant’s superb béchamel sauce, which transfigures the simple fare. There’s the usual Croque Madame (toasted gruyere cheese) and Croque Monsieur (the Madame with the addition of grilled ham), as well as a delicately seasoned Steak Tartar, and the house favorite, the Brandade, which layers codfish with lightly toasted, crispy whipped potatoes.

The grilled main courses include steak, lamb, and fish of the day, and during lunch it’s even possible to get a Burger et ses Frites. The best desert is the amazing Tarte aux Pommes, although the very sweet mousse will please any serious chocolate lover. And for early-rising Francophiles, a French country breakfast is available after 8:00 a.m.

In the spring, owner Raju Mirchandani promises a sidewalk raw bar and outdoor seating, which will certainly be necessary as the news of New York’s first bistro a vins spreads.

© Edward W Batchelder
(from The Resident)

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