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)