Murray Hill, NY
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo
So we go to Madison Bistro, which is popular, but not ever a zoo. The dining room is behind and below the bar area, which in the days when smoking was allowed, kept the dining room remarkably smoke-free. The waiters are efficient and knowledgeable, they never hover or bug you, and they come to the table immediately just as you want them to. They tell you the daily specials carefully, then they are pleased by everything you ask for. And they ask you if you'd like a dessert soufflé at the start of the meal, so it will come out at the right time at the end of the meal. It's such a civil place.
The interior is nicely logical, too. The bathrooms are tucked away under an alcove beneath the stairs, and they are very cute, decorated with 19th century ads for children's clothing. The corrider leading to it is discretely curtained off in velvet -- very sort of French-evocative, don't you know? And the dining room is divided like two parlors -- one with tables and chairs, the main one with a banquette, deriguer for a bistro. The waiters do a good job of placing people around the dining rooms so no one feels hemmed in in the early part of the evening. And it's not ever really so packed that it's claustrophobic. It's a pleasant place to dine.
The food is excellent, too. Chef Claude Godard is a celebrated, young, Frenchman who came to New York less than a decade ago, attracted by the "energy and diversity" of the city. He's the son and grandson of chefs, owns a restaurant in his native Burgundy, worked at Michelin multi-star places, and now owns this little restaurant in a former brownstone. A book (in French) collecting recipes from noted chefs includes Chef Godard's Ginger Crème Brulée. It works in a strong but subtle way -- not in-your-face, not fusion, not combining stuff for the sake of combining them.
That marks all of Godard's cuisine, too. The bouillabaise is flavored with saffron, and includes a Maine Lobster, clams, scallops, mussels and fish. It's delicious and not at all overbearing. The rouille is not overly garlicky, and it blobbed on toasted slices of baguette to float on the broth. The roasted chicken is perfect -- almost half a chicken is served with salad, mashed potatoes, and a classical sauce. It's juicy, tender, and so good that we finished it all. The appetizers are bistro fare too -- we ordered salade frisée with lardons, a charcuterie sampler of sausages and pâté, and a tarte paysanne -- essentially a goat cheese quiche. They were all excellent but the tarte was fantastic. One of us declared they'd eat the whole thing if they could sneak into the kitchen.
The other dessert we enjoyed was frozen pistachio nougat. Not as superlative as the rest of the meal, but refreshing. In fact, Chef Godard's cuisine is rather light compared to traditional French food. I brought home much of the bouillabaise and discovered it's not only great cold, but there was no congealed fat when I pulled it out of the refrigerator -- that's a great thing.
In addition to the à la carte menu, Godard also offers a prix fixe menu at $30 or $40, depending on how many courses you order. Our bill with dessert spirits came to $125, and it was worth every cent. It si fine dining after all, and in fact, for the amount of food and it's very high quality, it was a great bargain. The service and environment were wonderful too (except for the idiot who insisted on talking on her cellphone during dinner). This place has the air of a neighborhood bistro with people who live nearby dropping in for dinner, but it's much nicer. They normally sell many business lunches, and dinner is a slower-paced, quieter meal.
I really should mention this place first when asked where I want to go to dinner. I keep thinking I'd like to try somewhere new; this is New York City after all, which has about 30,000 restaurants within it's borders. Tried and true is noble and marvelous, and I'll be forever grateful to have Madison Bistrot as my guaranteed second choice!
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