Entries in Christian Delouvrier (3)


La Mangeoire

Note: This is a review under chef Christian Delouvrier, who retired at the end of 2014. He spent four years at La Mangeoire, but was not able to attract the city’s main restaurant critics to review it.


What a strange, strange trip it’s been for Christian Delouvrier. In the 1980s and ’90s, he was arguably the city’s most successful French chef, winning three stars at Maurice (1981–89), three at Les Celebrites (1991–98), and four at Lespinasse (1998–2003), where he replaced the legendary Gray Kunz.

When Lespinasse shuttered (one of the few restaurants ever to close with four stars), Delouvrier was temporarily sidelined until he took over as executive chef for Alain Ducasse at the Essex House (which ironically occupied the old Les Celebrites space) in 2004. Ducasse canned him within days after Frank Bruni demoted the restaurant to three stars the following year.

Things haven’t quite been the same for Delouvrier since then. He cooked at La Goulue in Boca Raton and Bal Harbour from 2006–09, with a couple of consulting gigs on the side. Last year, David Bouley hired Delouvrier to rescue his failing brasserie, Secession. We found the restaurant much improved, but the disastrous pre-Delouvrier reviews were too much to overcome, and Secession promptly closed.

Bouley offered Delouvrier a job at one of his other properties, but you sensed that wasn’t going to work out. Without much fanfare, he turned up last October at La Mangeoire, a neighborhood Provençal bistro on the Upper East Side that, as far as I can tell, has never had a Times review despite decades in business. “With this job I have returned to my roots,” he told the Times in December, when the news finally leaked out.

Our immediate reaction: “This is what Secession should have been.” The restaurant’s three small rooms immediately convey the feeling of a village restaurant in Provence. There are lush flower bouquets, hanging copper pots, French artwork on the walls, starched white tablecloths, wine racks in plain view, and a friendly maitre d’ who happily seated me, even though I was 20 minutes early.

La Mangeoire is not going out of its way to publicize its new chef. His name does not appear on the website or on the printed menu. You have to figure that for a guy who once had four stars, this is a come-down, and perhaps he still has his eye on something bigger. Or perhaps Delouvrier, now in his early 60s, simply wants to relax, and to cook the food of his youth.

The menu, which does not appear to be reprinted frequently, consists entirely of French standards. The appetizers ($10.00–13.50) number about a dozen; so do the entrées, each of which is offered in portions small ($13.50–22.00) or large ($19.50–33.00). The prix fixe is $28.

There was a long list of recited specials. One of these, an appetizer of scalloped potatoes with onions and goat cheese ($12; right), sounded so good that we both ordered it, and were delighted with the choice.

I’ve never been a fan of Coq au Vin ($24.50; above left), but I thought it would be a good test of the kitchen: sure enough, this preparation felt exactly right. The chicken was as tender as it should be, the sauce tart but not overpowering. Blanquette de Veau ($28.00; above right) was another recited special. The sauce seemed exactly right, as well, the veal more tender than I recall in past versions of this dish.

The Provence-heavy wine list shows some real thought, but when you ask a server for wines by the glass, he merely says, “Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec, Pinot Noir,” as if it didn’t matter which Malbec, Cabernet, etc., you were getting. A couple of the by-the-glass selections turn out to be not even French, which undermines the whole purpose of dining at the restaurant. Once we got a look at the list, we were pleased with a 2002 Dom Bernarde from Provence, for $44.

I have no idea whether hiring a well known chef has brought in new business. The restaurant was full on a Friday evening. Some of the patrons were clearly from the neighborhood; others, we couldn’t tell. It certainly wasn’t a stereotype old-fashioned uptown crowd, but a healthy mix of old and young. The location is technically in Turtle Bay, but the feel of the restaurant is Upper East Side.

Heaven only knows whether Christian Delouvrier will stay put for a while, but we can only hope he does. For now, La Mangeoire is your go-to place for Provençal classics. [Update: Chef Delouvrier called us, and assured us that he intends to remain at La Mangeoire for many years.]

La Mangeoire (1008 Second Avenue at 53rd Street, Turtle Bay)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **



Secession is Done

Last week, we returned to Secession to see how the ill-begotten restaurant was faring under four-star chef Christian Delouvrier. We found it much improved, but alas, mostly empty. Frank Bruni also circled back, finding the food better than it was, but marred by service gaffes. We often disagree with Bruni, but we believe him on matters like stale bread, absent servers, and wine served too warm.

Today, the penny dropped: Secession has closed. It will be replaced “by the end of the year” (meaning sometime in 2010, if we’re lucky) by a Japanese concept called Brushstroke, which David Bouley had intended to open across the street in the old Delphi space. That space, according to the Times, “ran into structural and other problems.”



After a horrific beginning, there are signs that Secession may be turning into a good restaurant.  [Update: So much for that. Less than a week after our visit, Secession has closed.]

This is the place that replaced three-star Danube and promptly crapped out, earning zero stars in this blog and from Frank Bruni of the Times. We’re seldom simpatico with Bruni, but we entirely agreed with him on everything at Secession—even the rude coat-check lady. How on earth did David Bouley believe he could serve a menu with 70 items and get even half of them right?

A few months after Bruni’s review, David Bouley wisely hired Christian Delouvrier to take over the kitchen at Secession. Delouvrier once earned three stars at Maurice in the Parker-Meridian Hotel, three stars at Les Celebrites in the Essex House, four stars at Lespinasse in the St. Regis, and three stars at Alain Ducasse, again in the Essex House. If it’s classic French cuisine that you want, Delouvrier is your man.

The menu at Secession has now been very wisely pared down to less than half its former girth. In our view, it could stand to be pared down even more, but it has taken a huge step in the right direction. We ordered two dishes that Delouvrier himself is responsible for, and we went home happy.

A cold pea and mint soup ($9) was terrific. Duck confit ($21) was exactly what this classic dish should be, but they ought to jettison the cast-iron serving dish, which only gets in the way. The fries are perfect, but those closer to the bottom of the pan got soggy.

It won’t be easy to get the critics back. None of the patrons seemed to be under fifty. The server mentioned that Danyelle Freeman of the Daily News was in last week, but she already posted an irrelevant pre-Delouvrier rave and is unlikely to review it again so soon. Mimi Sheraton was in the house. She is precisely the demographic that this restaurant appeals to, but she doesn’t have a reviewing platform these days.

Secession is a lot better than it was, but getting the recognition it deserves won’t be easy.

Secession (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: ***
Overall: *