Au revoir 2017: Bienvenue 2018

 Vaucluse...A French classic

Vaucluse...A French classic

Au revoir 2017...

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If you’re ‘desperately seeking Paris’ here in New York, how best to welcome in the New Year? À la franchise, of course, because the year sparkles a bit brighter given a soupçon of French style and elegance. So it was, with dear friends in tow, that we welcomed in 2018 at Michael White's French brasserie on the Upper East Side, the stunning Vaucluse on Park Avenue.

Vaucluse is part of Marea Group, whose restaurants are known for innovative Italian fare. But the owner-chef, Michael White, has spread his wings and gave himself the liberty to cook with plenty of good French butter and sprigs of lavender. The philosophy of Vaucluse can be summed up this way: Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoupe. Eat well, laugh often, love a lot.

Bienvenue 2018...

And that we did, from beginning to end. But on New Year's Eve, given the deep dip in the temperature outside, the elegant patrons came and went all bundled up. Thus the photo above taken in summer which gives a better feel for the entrance and clientele. We started with drinks ( a Bombay Sapphire martini, s'il vous plait...) and a sampling of the breads baked in-house—focaccia, raisin bread, olive bread, and the irresistible crusty French dinner rolls. The breads are spectacular!

We lingered long, before moving on to the beautifully presented oysters with caviar, served atop a bed of pink rock salt. Gorgeous, non? The most popular entrées with our group of four that evening were the Dover sole and a duck magret served medium-rare, after which came a round of heavenly desserts, one of which is pictured below—a crispy fruit tart served atop a puddle of sauce edged with a scoop of sorbet. 

The Art of French Dining

Often when you read a dessert recipe, it looks too convoluted, not worth the time and trouble to make. But when you watch a professional chef execute that same recipe, it looks so easy, so effortless, that it builds your own own confidence.

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Years ago, I took cooking lessons with the late Mr Maurice Moore Betty. In the vanguard of New York City chefs then teaching students to prepare three-course meals with French flair, he held classes in his townhouse in midtown Manhattan. There were six or seven of us to a class, and we would meet weekly. From him we learned far more than how to follow a recipe for Beef Wellington or how to decorate a cold lemon mousse with sugar-coated violets. For after we had followed the recipes and completed the preparations, we'd sit down at a beautifully appointed table with silverware, crystal and fine china to enjoy our efforts. As did Mr Moore-Betty who poured the wines with a liberal hand. Very French.

So I was interested to read that the executive pastry chef at Vaucluse, Aisha Momaney, is likewise a talent and a teacher. That you can ‘learn something sweet’ by joining her gifted team for a day starting with a hands-on pastry class, to be followed by a kitchen & bakery tour, and culminating in what is called a 'bread-inspired' three-course lunch menu paired with wine.

Currently there are three classes listed: A pastry ‘lovers’ class on Saturday, February 10th at $115 per person plus tax and gratuity. The other two are on Saturday March 24 and Saturday April 21st at $85 per person. See the beautifully designed Vaucluse website for further information and to register. To work in a professional kitchen would be fun. 

January 1, 2018

But what's New Year's Eve without New Year's Day? For the four of us it was on to Café Luxembourg for brunch, where the huevos rancheros  proved a huge hit with the guys, and the omelet with chèvre merited a ‘best ever’ from the gals. Café Luxembourg with its artsy crowd and fun-loving atmosphere is perfect for any celebration, especially on New Year’s Day when the telephone never stopped ringing and the good cheer of the receptionist (above, right) never faded.

As we were leaving, rushing to make the 1:30 PM showing of the film 'Phantom Thread,' the bar remained packed with well-wishers waiting for tables. Spirits were high. Coat racks overflowing. I made a mental note that the next time we try one of their specialty cocktails; if not the 'Maria Peligrossa' made with tequila then, perhaps, the 'Very Berry Bellini' made with a blackberry puree—an idea that my friend, Karen (above) quickly seconded. 

After which, it was on to see the great Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Phantom Thread’ a psychological drama that keeps you guessing throughout and leaves you doubting yourself at the end. Don't miss this mesmerizing character study with its gripping undertones and sterling performances.

And what's a weekend without a walk in the park, especially when your neighborhood park is Central Park? To find it nearly empty of people and dogs was a rarity, one that didn't last long enough.

A culinary heads-up

January 22nd - February 9th is NYC Winter Restaurant Week. If you’re going to be in town and have been longing to try a particular restaurant, this might be a good time. For example, at Vaucluse, a three-course prix fixe lunch is $29, a great deal! Vaucluse, on the UES, is at 100 East 61st Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues and Café Luxembourg, on the Upper West Side is at 200 West 70th Street, between Amsterdam and West End Avenues.

And that's how we welcomed in the New Year, so now it's your turn to tell me how you celebrated. Wishing you good health, good friends and good times in 2018. Bring it on!  Hope to see you back here soon, when I’ll have the coffee ready.