Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Food – Great Friends – Great Restaurant

After a bit of a restaurant hiatus (economic meltdown doesn’t really bode well for frequent restaurant visits), my fiancé and I went out with a bunch of our long-time friends for a semi-annual dinner and gabfest. Our friend chose a quaint French bistro in Chelsea as the meeting spot for all eight of us.

I know that eight young professionals at a dinner table can become a raucous group, but I will commend the restaurant for two things: seating us toward the back, separating us from the rest of the diners with a nice private curtain, and also for the service. The wait staff was very pleasant, and I know large groups can be tough to deal with sometimes.

What’s nice about group dining is that you have the opportunity to sample many of the dishes. And we didn’t realize that the portions at La Belle Vie would be so generous – especially for the prices. I think that comparatively to other restaurants, your dollar goes much further here (recession bonus)!

For appetizers, several of us got the French onion soup, and then we split the duck confit risotto. The soup had perfectly browned melted Swiss cheese on top, and was quite filling (eyes bigger than stomach syndrome). The duck risotto was – ducky! It was less creamy and meatier than I expected it to be. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I did. The flavor of the risotto was light and faintly cheesy, and the taste of duck and mushrooms were the stars of the show. Again, much more filling than I anticipated, especially since I was sharing it with three other people.

For the main dish, I opted to try something distinctly French – the Boeuf Bourguignon, which is beef cubes sautéed with red wine, vegetables, mashed potatoes. The plate was enormous. Even if I had skipped the apps, I still don’t think I could have finished this dish (pictured left). The beef was wonderfully tender, and you could really taste the red wine infused in the sauce. It was really delicious. The mashed potatoes were also good because they were not too salty, and served as a perfect subtle compliment to the super-flavorful sauce on the beef. And atop each of the three piles of mashed potatoes, a waffle potato chip was perched. Yum!

I also had the pleasure of sampling the Canard Rôti - crispy roasted half of duck with long grain wild rice, Grand Marnier sauce (pictured right). The surprising and delightful thing about this dish was the sweet, almost fruitiness of the sauce on the duck. But it wasn’t too sweet or offensive. It had just the right amount of zing. I also tried their fall-of-the-bone tender short ribs, which were also great, and enormous in portion (pictured left).

Since you can’t call yourself a French restaurant and not serve soufflé, we ordered ours at the same time we ordered our entrees so as to give the kitchen ample time to prepare the chocolate, praline, and Grand Marnier confections. We hoped that one of each flavor would be enough, but we should have known that just like everything else at this restaurant, the soufflés would be giant. Each one could easily feed three hungry people. They were all fluffy and light, which is how it should be. And the waiter brought over the soufflé, punctured it on top with a fork, and then poured in its respective sauce (see chocolate soufflé, in action, pictured right). The only disappointment I had was with the chocolate – it just did not have the richness that I would have expected. It was more of a subtle cocoa flavor that rich chocolaty goodness. But perhaps this worked to our advantage, since we were bursting at the seams at this point.

Also notable was the large selection of wine by the glass. I highly recommend the Montepulciano.

But of course, as good as the food was, the best part of the evening was being able to share it with good friends, to catch up and spend quality time together. And La Belle Vie was a great place to do just that.

La Belle Vie – 184 8th Avenue, 10011