La Goulue: Like Old-Times
After nine years, the Michelin starred La Goulue has returned to the swank Upper East Side, opening a few blocks from its former location. When it closed the doors in 2009, its regular habitués, especially the ladies-who-lunch, felt forsaken. Where would they go to shake off a case of "Missing Paris Blues’? Who could satisfy a craving for the fabulous cheese soufflé?
When La Goulue closed due to lease problems, the owners packed up the dark wood paneling, the sconces, the brass-trimmed bar, the century-old mirrors, the French windows, and even the front door with a 2009 Open Table 'diner’s choice' sticker to put it all in storage. And there it stayed. For how long, no one could say. It felt like a death in the family.
In the interim, when my friends and I went looking for a turn-of-the-century Parisian bistro, we would often head for Orsay on Lexington Avenue, La Goulue’s sister restaurant, likewise owned by the restaurateur Jean Denoyer.
Naturally, from time to time we would inquire about La Goulue's reopening. Surely, there would be a reopening. This went on for years, as we could not accept that our beloved restaurant was gone forever, along with the cheese soufflé as prepared by La Goulue's chef, Antoine Camin. Eventually, the owners of Orsay relented, adding the cheese soufflé to the weekday menu. And eventually, too, they found a new location, one they spent years searching for.
Pulling up in front of 29 East 61st Street, I sat there gazing at the restaurant—at the light and lovely traditional lace curtains filtering the light from the street, at the name printed bold overhead, the door with its outdated sticker.
As I fetched in my handbag for my camera to take this photo, the cab driver asked: "Did you make a mistake? Do we have the wrong place?"
"No, it’s the right place," I said. "It's that I haven’t seen it in years. It's like looking at a long lost friend and not believing your eyes. Like seeing a mirage in the desert and hoping your imagination's not working overtime."
"No, it's really there," the driver said, smiling broadly. "I can see it, too." Reassured, I climbed out of the cab.
That day I was on the early side as I was meeting a friend who was coming in from out-of-town, and I didn't want to be late. Early or not, La Goulue was in readiness—the soft lighting, the smiling hat check girl at the door, and the smartly dressed maître d' with a digital notebook in hand.
"Bonjour, monsieur!" I said making good eye contact, my voice tripping the scales the way it must when speaking French. After all, French is a musical language, which is part of its charm.
"Bonjour, Madame…how nice to have you with us today."
"How nice to be here again. Welcome back!" I said with a lilt and a smile.
At which he whispered the table number to a young woman, and in a flash I found myself happily ensconced on a banquette with an excellent view of all the comings and goings.
Over my shoulder the antique sconces signed by the legendary French designer Majorelle, added a glow to the room. And a glass of a well-chilled white Burgundy— La Frontière, without a hint of oak—did the same for me. No one does lighting better than the French. Consider the way they light the streets of Paris.
And then my friend arrived and we got down to business; namely, catching up. In due time, she ordered the braised chicken du jour, and I a tender chicken breast served served over endive, jasper hill blue, Asian pear, candied pumpkin seeds and tossed with a balsamic jus. At a nearby table the ladies ordered —bien sur! —a house favorite, steak tartare La Goulou, served with frites maison.
What I had not known until I went onto the restaurant's stunning new website (check it out!) was that a scene from the movie 'Fatal Attraction' had been filmed at the former location. If Katz’s Deli is where 'Harry Met Sally,' La Goulue is where the lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) met Alex(Glenn Close) the book editor. Things were never the same.
When that evening I shared the good news of the return of La Goulue with my favorite dining companion, he insisted we return for dinner another night. And so we did. Besides the Parisian ambiance, the thoughtful service and the fine food - the tuna tartare appetizer was divine! - it was such fun with everyone talking about how happy they were to be back. That evening we dined early, so the tables you see were filled within the hour. Isn't the room heavenly?
I'd have to say that being back at La Goulou was like old times, but even better. You see, after an absence of nine years, we could fully appreciate what we had been missing. As Audrey Hepburn once said: Paris is always a good idea. As is La Goulue, a reincarnation of old Paris in 21st century New York.
Located at 29 East 61st Street, a few steps off Madison Avenue, the restaurant is open for lunch 12 Noon to 3 PM and for dinner 5:30 PM to 11:00 PM. On Sunday 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Reservations necessary.
And that's all for this week mes amis...hope to see you back next week when I'll the coffee ready and will tell you about an extraordinary exhibition opening at Met Fifth: Private Parks, Public Gardens: Provence. In the meanwhile, may life be good to you.
If you'd like to see the on-going influence of the legendary French designer Majorelle here the Upper East Side, click here, and if you'd like to know more about the times of La Goulue, a cabaret dancer in Paris immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec, click here.