If the food reviews are to be believed (and I think they are), La Petite Auberge restaurant, just north of Gramercy Park, is reminiscent of 1950s Paris. It certainly exudes an authentic flair, as the entire staff is French, from the coatcheck to the chef. Local 9-to-5ers like the restaurant because of its consistently good food over the course of 30 years and because there is no catwalk music or loud chit-chat. It is a place where a business, casual, or romantic lunch can happen without distraction.
My tablemate and I chose the pre-fixed lunch, a New York institution that may confuse out-of-towners who don't know the term prix fixe. At La Petite Auberge, diners are charged a flat rate for a three-course lunch of appetizer, entree, and dessert. Each course is expertly choreographed.
I started with a green salad. It was perfect in its simplicity, with the freshest field greens and juicy endive I've had, and a creamy salad dressing to die for. (It hinted of buttermilk, but I can't be sure. Todd Wilbur, the Top Secret recipe guy, would know!) Accompanied by crusty baguette and a cool pat of butter served with tongs onto a paper doily-covered bread plate, it was a great way to start a meal. The server cleared our plates, then took to smartly removing all our bread crumbs with a tool that looked like a tiny, unmarked metal ruler.
I'd been previously pleased with the roast chicken and mashed potatoes on another outing there, so this time I tried the Sole Meuniere (with lemon and butter) served with sauteed green beans and boiled fingerling potatoes. Though the beans were slightly overcooked, they were still delicious and buttery, so I forgave Chef Alain for this small oversight, considering I burned the last batch of green beans I made at home.
I finished with a divine chocolate mousse, garnished with the tiniest dollop of whipped cream and a vanilla cigarette-shaped tuile cookie. My lunch partner was focused only on her creme caramel.
Considering the quality of the food, and the expertise with which it was made and served, I'd say $20 for an authentic French luncheon is a steal.
Go there. It's good.
La Petite Auberge
116 Lexington Avenue (at 28th Street)
New York, NY 10016