Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Chez Laurence
Madison Avenue, NYC
Review by Diana DeRiggs

There are some restaurants that are just plain worth going to, even if some one thing just stinks about it. Chez Laurence is primarily a patisserie with an accompanying bistro. It's in an area of Midtown that is dotted heavily with French bistros of varying style and quality; this is probably the least of them. But the prices are reasonable and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd (read in NYC parlance -- "yokels not from the City") like it a lot. They feel like they are doing something big and different while in the "Big Smoke" (sorry, that's a Kiwi term, but you get the idea!). Such is the state of Cuisine Français in America in this new century.

Indeed, the food is excellent and not at all like what French food can be. I'd call this "cleaned up" French food -- the offal, snails, frogs, toxic liqueurs, etc. are not even offered. The most "out there" thing offered might be the pâté platter, served with a mixed salad and brioche toast points (brioche makes awesome toast!), might be the most extreme thing. Seriously, the wildest this place gets is a good French onion soup, or some roast lamb -- a shame, since some of the best French food is not at all mainstream. But on the plus side, you don't deal with whining customers ("you should have told me it's cow stomach! Yuck!") and the relatively few things they do offer, are generally done to a turn.

Now the bad part -- the service is enthusiastic, but it's really, really bad. I ordered a classic "steak frîtes" which was listed to contain a steak, fries, and salad. The first two items came, but no salad. I asked the waiter immediately when the salad would come and he said, "Right away, Madame." And then I never saw him again, not till it was time to clear up the spent dishes. I ended up flagging down another waiter to ask for my salad, and she brought it promptly. Same thing happened with dessert. And with the check. Yet every time we did see the waiter, he was certainly happy and energetic! (My dining partner thinks the exotic and beautiful model who came in to the restaurant shortly after we did had something to do with his inattentiveness .... yeah, but even so!)

The food: other than the steak frîtes, pâté platter, and French onion soup, we also ordered the risotto of the day (mussels and shrimp). All of it was very good, not too hugely portioned. Their bread basket was composed of bagel chips, a sort of muffin-focaccia, and a brown bread of some sort disguised as something artisinal. The bridge-and-tunnel yokels were waxing poetic about the focaccia; they even sang praises to the butter! (Even though it came in little foil packets.) I just thought it was rather heavy and unoriginal. I ate the bagel chips -- those are always good.

We would have had dessert -- the tray showed chocolate ganache, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, lemon meringue, grand marnier chocolate, crème brûlée, carrot cake, etc. (in season, they also have very nice fruit tartes). They do great desserts. But by the time the errant waiter got around to showing it to us, we had lost interest and decided to go for coffee and cake elsewhere.

(By the way, we once bumped into George Clooney and his bodyguard just outside. I think he would have been a good choice for Bail Organa, and told him so. He smiled nervously.)

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