C'est si bon: the Simone
In a small townhouse on East 82nd Street, a few steps off Lexington Avenue, we discovered ‘the Simone,’ a charming restaurant with wonderful food and excellent service. What's in the name, I wondered. It seems that 'the Simone' derives its name from the fabled Château Simone outside Aix-en-Provence, a château that has been in the hands of the Rougier family since 1830. May 'the Simone' be equally treasured.
One blustery evening, as we pulled up in front of the restaurant, the dining room when seen from the sidewalk was all aglow. It was a most welcoming sight, as were the fresh flowers on a side table as you enter, the tables dripping with fine cloths, the well-dressed diners. Why so many men object to wearing jackets and ties when they look so handsome with them, I do not know.
Owned by Tina Vaughn, who manages all aspects of the dining room, and her husband, Chip Smith, a classically-trained chef in the French mode, 'the Simone' succeeds where so many other New York restaurants fail. Tucked away as it is on a side street, one of many townhouses, it offers guests a refined atmosphere in which you can carry on a conversation over a delectable meal. Very old-style French. More than that, it’s a place that in the words of the poet Baudelaire offers a sense of luxe, calme et volupté. Or in plain English—luxury, calm, and sensuality. And not pompous at all.
To achieve that balance is no small feat. It all begins with Ms. Vaughn taking reservations in the late afternoons over the phone for their 11 tables. She does not take reservations in the evening when busy attending to her guests. A most attentive hostess, she is quick to offer excellent wine suggestions and drops by to make certain that everything is to your liking.
According to a review by Pete Wells, the food critic of the New York Times who gave 'the Simone' three stars, the restaurant is not on Facebook or on any social media. A counter-intuitive approach to marketing, to be sure. Instead, you can check out the website of the Simone, which offers glimpses of the restaurant and of the inspired preparations that emerge with regularity from the kitchen.
Then, too, there are the high standards. For instance, penned at the end of a hand-written menu posted outside the restaurant is a request that guests forego using their cellular devices: Google, Instagram, texting, emails, photo sharing and actual phone calls. A device-free environment transports you back to a time when people dining together spoke to one another instead of constantly checking their phones.
As for the menu, it's hand-written in an elegant cursive by Ms. Vaughn and is difficult to read, but the longer I stayed with it, the more interesting it became. You simply must slow down. But if you stop to think about it, you can see how a hand-written menu plays into the hosts’ desire to create an elegant atmosphere. Personally, I’d prefer a more legible menu, one that didn’t take as much effort to decipher. It's that once I have that martini in hand—served beautifully—I like to kick back and enjoy the company, the ambiance, the conversation.
For starters, we enjoyed a refreshing tuna tartare, served with cucumber, red onion, a touch of mint and a bit of shaved fennel. For the main course, the duck, identified as being from Crescent Farm on Long Island (for those who need to know where their food comes from), was superb; the breast seared rare, the braised thigh fork-tender, and a canape of duck liver and mushroom that was simply divine. The dish, consisting of three differing takes on duck by Mr. Smith, was a tour de force. There were many wonderful touches, including the basket of gluten-free bread that miraculously appeared from the kitchen and a pastry topped with meringue and dusted with almonds made with a crunchy cookie dough. Other highly recommended desserts included a chocolate pot de crème and a Lord Baltimore cake.
Dining at 'the Simone' is somewhat expensive, with entrées running from $40 to $51 for the rack of lamb, but it is a special place run by two people who clearly love what they do. Reservations are a must, as they are booked for weeks in advance, so you need to plan ahead.
And here it is, the end of a perfect meal, a well-made espresso complete with foam.
Although the restaurant is not on Open Table, the site had posted a nice blurb that read: "Whether stepping out on the town for a romantic date, a friendly gathering or a business meeting, the Simone offers the level of sophistication guests crave." I couldn't have said it better myself.
The Simone, at 151 East 82nd Street, is open Monday to Saturday for dinner starting at 5:45 PM until... Until it's time for you to call it a night. When it was time for us to call it a night, we did not have to wait for our coats, as they were already at the front door waiting for us. C'est si bon, the Simone. It's so good!
Hope to see you back next week, when I'll have the coffee brewing. Jusque-là...