The Restaurant Interview: Georges Briguet
by Christopher Carpenter
Open since 1964, Le Périgord has been host to movie stars across the ages from Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Visiting members of the UN, faithful regulars, and French food enthusiasts have kept Georges busy for nearly 50 years.
“How’s the beef bourguignon?” It was lunchtime on a Wednesday at Le Périgord and a half-empty glass of white wine was sitting next to a very full glass of red wine, above a white china bowl of meaty brown stew; its aroma wafting up in nearly visible tendrils. Owner Georges Briguet continued: “If you want to make this bourguignon, first you go to a butcher and ask him for a cut to make a beef stew. He’ll give you the shoulder, the chuck of the shoulder.” He went on to give cooking instructions, which included braising the beef, adding turnips, carrots, celery, potato, onions, 2-3 glasses of red wine, and a little salt before a low and slow period in the oven of about 2-3 hours. “The beef is the key…If it’s the right cut, it will do all the work for you.” He had barely finished this oration when a large constituency of Uruguayan diplomats stopped in, presumably taking a break from the nearby United Nations HQ, for lunch. Georges greeted them formally, made his rounds throughout the dining room, and sat back down to chat a bit longer about his restaurant, Le Périgord, one of the oldest and best French restaurants in New York City.
You know when you’re young and you walk into an expensive home, preferably owned by an adult, and immediately feel like you don’t belong there? That’s kind of how I felt at Le Perigord; the restaurant looks very exclusive from the outside – white curtains in the windows prevent from seeing inside, and once you’re actually inside you are transported back to 1964, when the establishment was first built. The old New York feel, the UES crowd, the waiters in tuxes – all very old school to me. The best part about Le Perigord though, in my humble opinion, is the service. We were greeted warmly at the door, taken to our cozy corner table (perfect spot for people watching) and offered a glass of wine or champagne while we browsed the menu. So far so good (and when was the last time someone offered you champagne upon arrival?) The menu at Le Perigord doesn’t have prices on it – that’s how you know you’re in for it. But hey, go big or go home, right? And so, we did.
I can’t avoid lobster bisque when I see it on a menu – I just can’t. And anytime I go to a French restaurant I feel it’s necessary to order everything that sounds rich and decadent (read: butter, cheese, puff pastry), so naturally we got the vegetable tart, the scallops with vegetable risotto, and the smoked salmon and corn muffin with sour cream. The lobster bisque was very tasty, but different than what I’m used to; there were no chunks of lobster in it, and the broth was a light brown as opposed to the pinkish hue I usually see. It was salty and rich – if I had to finish the whole thing I might have swelled up like a puffer fish and fallen asleep.
The vegetable tart was probably the most deceiving dish; for something that was basically butter and cheese in a flaky crust with some julienned vegetables running through it, it was light and delicious. I could eat a vegetable tart like that every day – I wouldn’t, due to my arteries, but it would be nice if I could.
When life hands you rice, make risotto. I know that’s not the real saying, but it should be. There is nothing wrong with risotto. NOTHING. Ok? It’s just one of the most delicious starches out there and I don’t much care for anyone who disagrees. The scallops with vegetable risotto were light, perfectly cooked, and the risotto was oh-so-creamy. There was a drizzle of deep green olive oil at the bottom that added a richness to the dish…just wonderful.
Unfortunately our last appetizer left a bit of a salty taste in our mouths. Ok, a very salty taste. I love salt, but the house-smoked salmon with corn muffin, sour cream and salmon caviar was too much. They sprinkle the dish with onions and capers when it arrives at your table (nice touch), so I had really high hopes for it, but the corn muffin was dry, and like I said, the salmon was just way too salty. Continue reading “The Skinny Pig” »
This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City’s Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
Something about the padded, sequestered interior of Le Périgord, the French haute cuisine holdout on east-east-east 52nd Street, turns people into librarians. Nobody at a typical lunch shift at this nearly 50-year-old restaurant talked much above a whisper. And yet the air—which smelled vaguely of your grandmother’s living room—is so still (no music inside, no traffic outside) you could clearly hear conversations a few tables away.
“You go to this restaurant to feel like a human being,” said a man to his friend. I pegged the speaker being in his late 50s, but later realized that he was a well-preserved septuagenarian. No one in the room, waiter or patron, was under 40. When a pair a twentysomethings came in later, they were so befuddled by the unfamiliar scene of relaxed gentility that they seated themselves, thinking that was OK. The maître d’ soon resituated them.
Le Périgord is still owned by Georges Briguet, who bought the place from the original owner two years after the restaurant opened. Without too much mental effort, one can guess the sort of celebrity that came here once upon a time. Truman Capote, Henry Kissinger, Jackie Kennedy, etc. Plus, a regular salting of nearby UN officials. And, of course, your run-of-the-mill, blue-suited moneybags who thinks Kissinger wasn’t so bad, and Capote was mean to write that stuff about Babe Paley in Answered Prayers.
My relatively talkative neighbor was certainly a regular—so regular that he asked whether a favored lamb dish that wasn’t on the menu was available. It was. “Well, why don’t you put it on the damn menu then?” he muttered as the waiter walked away. (Just because the customers look polished doesn’t mean they are. My friend dropped an F bomb every other sentence, and talked with great relish about past trysts.) “I have some friends coming into town and they asked for restaurant recommendations,” he told his more docile friend. “I thought of sending them here, but thought they might think it too dull. So I told them to go to Le Grenouille.”
I took my neighbor’s tip and ordered the wonderful Le Buffet Froid—a delicious selection of chilled asparagus, celery, cheese, pâté, cornichons, shrimp, tomato and other tidbits. Almost a meal in itself, it was sublimely satisfying. I followed that with Sole Meunière, grilled with a mustard sauce. Hey, if I’m in a place like this, I’m going to order a dish like that. It was worth the $45 just to watch the waiter expertly bone the fish tableside. Where does that happen anymore in Manhattan? Plus, the fillet was delectable; the veggies perfectly steamed. There was a dessert trolley—of course there was!—but I passed. The espresso was expert.
My neighbor had moved on to the topic of money. Actually, he seldom left it. Most conversations at Le Périgord are about money or old times. The two men reminisced about sitting on stoops in Brooklyn back in the days when they had no scratch. Recently, the guy’s house was reappraised at a value of $4 million. He seemed to be in the art game. “25 years ago, I could have told anybody I knew how to get rich. You buy a Hopper etching for $500. Today, it would be worth $150,000.” He laughed. “Why didn’t I do that, and make myself rich?”
His friend paused briefly over his pâté. “But, you did,” he replied.Bess Adler]
By Christopher A. Pape
To be at the vanguard of dining in New York City is hard enough; to do so for over 40 years is incredible. For Le Périgord on the far east side of 52nd, it is commonplace; so good is their food that generations of customers have experienced a meal here.
Being a resident of 52nd street, I had to try it for myself, as I had heard so many exemplary adjectives thrown its way (restaurants wish to receive half of the praise Le Périgord has in its illustrious career). Owned by George Briguet, the restaurant is testament to the way French food was – haute cuisine in an elegant setting.
Recently renovated, Le Périgord is the premiere destination for French cuisine in New York. The service is polished. The host is ageless and gracious. In addition to tableside service of Dover sole, duck l’orange and rack of lamb, the traditional fare also includes such staples as individual beef Wellington, coquilles St. Jacques and kidneys in mustard sauce.
Of course a French restaurant wouldn’t be complete without foie gras, which at Le Périgord is exquisite. Another dish that is not on the menu, but if you ask ahead of the Le Périgord team will be glad to make – pike quenelles. One of my favorite treats, it is a dish that is without flaw at this stalwart.
A note about the service and atmosphere before continuing on about the food; each member of the restaurant’s team was thorough, friendly and knowledgeable. Throughout the service I never felt rushed to finish the meal, nor did I feel neglected; it was the perfect amount of attention a diner could ask for.
Don’t forget to leave room for the fabulous soufflés and the legendary “temptation trolley” of desserts which always includes such timeless favorites as tarte Tatin, chocolate mousse and floating islands. The extensive, award-wining wine list includes a fine selection of both old and recent vintages, all at sensible prices.
If you’re looking for classic haute French cuisine, at quite reasonable prices, then look no further than Le Périgord. George and his team will be happy to serve you and the food will speak for itself. Go – you won’t be disappointed! •
405 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022
NY Lunchbox: Le Perigord
If the guéridons don’t give away how seriously Le Périgord takes its traditional elegance, maybe the tuxedoed and white-jacketed wait staff does.
The stately restaurant— which opened in 1964 and remains a longtime favorite of United Nations diplomats—has a $32 prix fixe lunch that seems ideal for a visiting, elderly relative or a business summit.
The menu, written in proper French, has English translations for those less worldly. A tarte aux legumes au beurre acidule—or a vegetable tart with butter—is perfect with pâtés aux truffles, or fettuccine with black-truffle sauce.
Another combination includes clams, cooked with shallots and vinegar, with a tasty, tangy beef bourguignon stew. An à la carte menu exists for those who don’t want the filling prix-fixe fare.
“Most people eat light lunches except for the duck, because it’s slightly sweet and not quite as filling,” said executive chef Joel Benjamin.
Although his restaurant is showy, Mr. Benjamin dismisses any notion that the bourgeoisie are unwelcome to his bourguignon.
“No one comes with a T-shirt or jeans on,” he said. “But people come with a light shirt or a light jacket. People are fairly comfortable.”
Le Périgord, 405 E. 52nd St. near First Avenue; serving lunch Monday through Friday between noon and 3 p.m.; 212-755-6244.
A version of this article appeared February 5, 2013, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: French Gets Comfortable.
Le Perigord – Visit this time-honored gem for an evening that is très magnifique!
Filled with the spirit of the holidays, we whisked ourselves away to Le Périgord, situated in a comfortable, quiet nook just northwest of Beekman Place. There, we encountered a warm welcome from the gracious maître of the manor and an arsenal of waiters sporting starched white jackets with napkins draped over their regimented forearms. Plump roses in full bloom quietly graced the tables as we were seated at our banquette. What a way to come in from the cold! From there we watched longtime patrons from the neighborhood sweep in, mostly women of a certain age bathed in black sable, and the host greet every one of them with a firm handshake and an air of recognition.
I toyed with a Grey Goose martini and my fella relaxed into a full-bodied red Gigondas while we slathered butter on civilized slices of brioche, anticipating the cuisine of longstanding chef Joel Benjamin, whose impressive résumé includes time at legendary restaurants Lutèce and La Côte Basque.
However, my ears soon pricked up like a rabid pinscher and my mood swiftly changed at the piercing death rattle of a confused, brittle fussbudget who apparently was contemplating strychnine over selections from the prix-fixe menu. We moved tables straightaway (which is something I never do), far across the room, as assisted by our equally aggrieved server. It hardly mattered anyway as we ended up dining with a better view of the moneyed complacency in attendance; what Tom Wolfe coined, in part, as “social x-rays.”
Frogs’ legs were game little leapers accompanied by a perfectly delicate risotto flavored with aromatics. Roasted lobster claws topped the hefty, buttery-soft lobster tail with pale strands of enoki mushrooms. It was surrounded by a medley of sautéed zucchini, carrots and yellow squash in a coriander lobster broth—which bordered more on a subtle bisque.
Sizeable seared quail was stuffed with minced wild forest mushrooms, which helped keep the bird moist, and black truffle sauce served to suit our fancy. Softened, shaved celeriac was a keen and serviceable side. We considered the Dover sole that we saw rolled out in hammered copper chafing dishes to tables nearby, but opted instead for something that went more along the ways of winter: we summoned the hearty, beating breast of the hunter and ordered medium rare, mildly musky venison cloaked in venison jus with a soupçon of black truffles. Melted cranberries in sugar, wilted red cabbage and peppery Brussels sprouts that were just fork-tender were ideal accompaniments.
I doubt anyone loves the idea of a dessert trolley more than I do, and on this mode of transportation we found at least a few treats that we had to try. Armed with wicked, generous pours of Armagnac (which we sipped on, in a slow revel) we picked from said trolley an offering of oeufs à la neige, the meringue confection, with an apparently Pollack-inspired spray of caramel lightly spattered on top of it. More meringue followed with the lemon tart and a fun layer of toasted marshmallows. Pear tart tartine arrived with a vanilla butter crust and an amiable resolution that, after lingering for more than three hours, we should probably go home.
Short Order: An elegant, classic French restaurant in a secluded spot on the Upper East Side.
Peter’s Picks: mushroom-stuffed fat quail with black truffle sauce; buttery roasted lobster tail.
We moved to another table because of the decrepit, shrieking woman with dietary restrictions that was seated at a banquette all too near to us.
Prices: $65 Prix Fixe; Alcohol: wine, full bar.
Le Périgord’s fine appetizer display has lost none of its zip. A splendid plateful holds tangy terrines, various fish and shellfish and small salads—almost a meal.
The new kitchen team is as consistent as a Swiss watch, deft in meats as in seafood, and quickly developing a new dessert identity with…Le Périgord’s familiar and friendly trolley of tarts, mousses and floating islands.
The new season of “Mad Men” inspired me to visit a classic New York specimen in the form of a fabulous French dinner at Le Périgord. Mad Men is a juicy entrée into the lifestyles (wining and dining very much included) of the select men and women working at a first-rate New York advertising agency in the sixties. It’s not the plot so much that interests me, but the elegant environment in which it takes place, sorely missing in this all-too casual era.
Located at 405 East 52nd Street, Le Périgord is a gem of a restaurant that has stood the test of time. The formal French service and the beautiful, bold, fresh-cut roses that grace each table charms me with every visit. Le Périgord attracts a blend of locals, diplomats and politicians alike (as it is located a few blocks from the UN).
Fresh roses on every table. Le Périgord is one of the few restaurants where the customers aren’t busy texting and depositing their buzzing blackberries on the dinner table.
Richard Nixon used to dine here quite often and a published photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton under the restaurant’s awning in 1964 put Le Périgord on the map. When Georges Briguet bought the restaurant, he made sure not to change its name.
I ordered off the restaurant week menu which includes three courses for $35.00. It’s available until Labor Day and it’s an excellent value.
The cuisine is classic French so all dishes are served with rich, velvety sauces. To start I had the vegetable tart perched in a butter sauce. The tart, which was akin to quiche, was filled with a mosaic of vegetables and robust in flavor. They also have a cold salad bar with celery root remoulade and a selection of seafood, which you can just as easily make a full meal out of. The menu includes such favorites as asparagus with vinaigrette, Dover Sole and roasted duck.
For dessert I devoured the Grand Marnier soufflé. It was like breathing in a lightly scented orange cumulonimbus cloud. A great dining experience can simply evoke a certain time or feeling. That’s Le Périgord.
Read the entire review at NewYorkSocialDiary.com
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