For at least a decade, the Adult White Tablecloth Restaurant in New York has suffered from media neglect. Open one of these, and the critics are likely to say, “No one eats like that any more.” The exceptions are rare, and usually have big names behind them, like Michael White or Daniel Boulud.
So imagine my surprise when The Simone—an expensive, totally retro, white tablecloth restaurant opened on the Upper East Side—and Pete Wells awarded three stars. Yes, the Upper East Side, where most critics seldom go, and which Wells has repeatedly disparaged, as if it were a foreign nation.
You’ll find more fifty-somethings than thirty-somethings at The Simone, which is just fine by me. I do get tired of being lectured about “the way we eat now,” when I never tired of the the way we ate before. There’s something refreshing about an old-fashioned restaurant. The Simone shows that the format still has plenty of life, when it’s done right.
The chef, Chip Smith, serves straightforward, French-inspired fare. After moving to New York from North Carolina, he cooked briefly at Le Midi near Union Square, a restaurant I found promising, but limited in its ambitions—bearing in mind that no entrée rose above $28. At The Simone, entrées are in the $30s and $40s, and Mr. Smith can do what he wants.
His wife, Tina Vaughn, writes out the frequently-changing menu in a voluptuous, cursive script. There are no tasting menus, snacks, side dishes, seafood towers, sharing plates, or large-format specials; the format is appetizer, entrée, dessert. The End. When was the last time you saw that?
Going retro has its drawbacks. The Simone has a website, but the online menu is merely a sample without prices, and the wine list is not posted. For the prices they’re charging, they ought to be able to fix that. As as I recall, the wine list was fairly priced and well suited to the food, but not especially deep. (The 2011 Maréchal Burgundy, pictured above, was $65.)
We started with a lovely gazpacho ($14; above left). The terrine du maison ($18; above right) changes frequently: the offering that day was foie gras with rabbit.
Seared Scallops ($41; above left) were a triumph. I believe it was the preparation still shown on the website (as of today), with sautéed mushrooms, salsify, Romaine lettuce, and hazelnuts. Although expensive, it was a generous portion, with five meaty scallops; many restaurants would serve just three or four.
But I was less pleased with the Salmon ($42; above right), served I believe with pea puree, green beans, and a potato tart. The accompaniments were fine, but the fish seemed slightly over-cooked.
The service was polite and attentive, but didn’t call attention to itself with old-school theatrics like cloches or calling my wife madame (not that I mind those things; some do). Ms. Vaughn runs an haute dining room, but she’s thoroughly down-to-earth.
Since the Wells review came out, reservations have been hard to come by. However, in good weather there are two outdoor tables on a covered porch, and I was able to book one of those on the same day. The other was unoccupied, so it felt like our own private dining room. (We were later offered an indoor table, available due to a cancellation, which we turned down.)
On such a small sample size, I can’t tell if The Simone executes at a three-star level consistently. It’s certainly most of the way there. I haven’t spent such an enjoyable evening dining out in a long time.
The Simone (151 E. 82nd St. between Lexington & Third Avenues, Upper East Side)
Food: French-inspired, mostly excellent
Ambiance: A quiet dining room; two atmospheric outdoor tables