Eating Grenouille at La Grenouille

If you live in New York or even if you don’t, you’ve probably seen an ad for La Grenouille. With its particular font and style, you see it in the back of Playbills at Broadway shows. You see it in The New Yorker and sometimes in the New York Times Magazine section. Such blatant commercialism may cause you to unfairly dismiss La Grenouille as “a place for tourists” and if you do you’ll miss out on one of New York’s most beautiful and (relatively) historic French restaurants.

Located on 52nd between 5th and Madison, the place looks–from the outside–like a magical jewelbox. Here’s mom and dad under the sign:

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Moreso than any other restaurant I’ve been to New York, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of it all once we stepped inside. Flowers, flowers everywhere. And gold and silver and mirrors: it was like a miniature version of Versailles. I tried to snap some pictures so I could capture a sense of it, but none of them came out. I’ll steal some from the La Grenouille website:

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Well, you get the floral effect but you lose the jewel-like quality. Anyway, it’s very pretty in there.

However (first complaint!) the tables are a bit…difficult. There are large tables in the middle for large parties–usually six or more. And then on the side are banquettes that are tight squeezes and, much like at the Carnegie Deli, you’re required to basically eat on top of another family. It was a bit uncomfortable, but we got over it.

The service at La Grenouille is great. They were there for us right away with bread, with water, with wine, with menus. We asked questions and they answered. Here’s the menu up close: (click to enlarge)

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The way it works is for the fixed prix of $87.50 you’re entitled to an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. You can order a la carte, but that would ultimately be more expensive. (Unless you didn’t want an appetizer or a dessert). The left side of the menu features classic dishes that are available year round; the right side seasonal dishes. You can choose from either side.

After we made our choices, they presented us with a tiny gazpacho which was really refreshing:

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“It’s cold,” said dad, kiddingly.

Next up, I decided to indulge myself with foie gras since I don’t eat foie gras on a regular basis, and since–according to some people–it won’t be available forever. This particular foie gras came with peaches:

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I liked it, though it was the first foie gras I’ve eaten that was–in parts–a bit stringy. Wonder why that was?

But folks–my entree is where you’ll be proud of me. Despite a childhood of devotion to this guy:

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And repeated viewings of “The Muppet Movie” (whose plot revolves around the dish I ordered), I knew I owed my readers the brave act of eating grenouille at La Grenouille. For, as those who speak French (and I’m not one of them) know: grenouille means frog. And so for my entree I ordered frog’s legs:

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“It’s our signature dish,” said the waiter, proudly, when he took my order. “It’s messy but it’s worth it.”

I realized a little too late that these were meant to be eaten with my hands. (The presentation of a finger bowl at the end clued me in.) But even with a knife and fork, I truly enjoyed them. They’re sauteed in garlic and crusted with flour so how bad could they be to start with? I hate to be cliche, but that old expression you always hear about things like frog’s legs proved true. “It tastes like chicken.” It kind of did.

Mom had the dover sole and dad had the steak au poivre:

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And they were both satisfied.

For dessert, I had the peach tart which I accidentally ordered as the plum tart, causing some confusion for our waiter. (The process by which you choose your tart is fun: they bring out a tray of tarts and tell you which they are. The man who did that presented my tart as a plum tart which is why, when the waiter came, I said plum tart. See: everything adds up here.)

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This was the low point of the meal: nothing to write home about.

But all in all, the La Grenouille experience was worth having. The other French places in New York I’ve been to–Daniel, Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges–are all temples of gastronomy with modern flair. La Grenouille is a bit more of a relic: they’re not pushing any envelopes, but they’re serving up old world France with style and charm. Plus you get to eat frog. How often do you do that? Quiet, Miss Piggy.

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