Midtown old and new: La Grenouille and Casa Lever

This week I had a couple of meetings in midtown (why else on Earth would you otherwise want to go there. Ok, maybe Rockefeller Center if you are visiting, that’s it.)

The classic:

La Grenouille

Not only its building is legendary (The Petite Prince was written there by Saint Exupéry), but the restaurant itself. La Grenouille literally represents the piece de résistance of the classic French cuisine restaurants founded in the 60’s that are all long gone by now (La Cote Basque, Lutece, La Caravelle). This French frog is becoming a legend itself. It is run by proprietor/chef and flower arranger Charles Masson Jr who took over the business from his father and the restaurant’s founder Monsieur Charles Masson Sr. You feel the history in its classy and charming atmosphere, and taste it in it’s traditional cuisine. Dishes are unmistakably French, such as terrine de campagne and the paillar de poulet. I had the chicken liver crepes, that melted in my mouth and a light tasty sole with mustard sauce. The staff is absolutely comme il faut: as polite and agreeable as can be. Delightful food, fantastic service, and comfortable ambiance seems to be the recipe to success of this old-school which stands the test of time. The insider tip here is to have lunch upstairs where jackets are not required, the prix-fixe menu - which changes everyday day - costs $30, and the fire place, high ceilings in this two-tiered atelier with skylight will transport you to a bygone era. This place is truly an oasis of composed beauty and delectable food in the grey chaotic sea of Midtown office buildings. And the high fashion industry power houses who are frequent customers seem to agree. Walk-ins welcome.

3 E. 52nd St., near Fifth Ave.


The new:

Casa Lever

When I heard that Sant Ambroeus’s owner Dimitri Pauli opened a new restaurant in Midtown three weeks ago I had to check it out immediately. I have to plead guilty to my impartiality here. I believe Sant Ambroues, albeit pricey, brings the most authentic northern Italian food to us, Manhattanites. As a holder of an Italian passport (as well as two other citizenships), I have had my share of tryouts in the search for genuine cuccina italiana in New York City. The simpler it is, the better; and also the most challenging. The décor has a groovy seventies air to it, maybe that’s because of the glass chandeliers, and the several Andy Warhol’s hanging around (they belong to the Lever House collection). Even though I find the retro atmosphere a little bit distracting, it somehow works. Casa Lever is attracting crowds after work for the typical Italian “aperitivo”, a post-work happy-hour cocktail drink with the mandatory appetizer size nibbles. “This is not a Sant Ambroeus because there’s no gelateria or patisserie, this is: a restaurant, “ explained Dimitri when I asked him why he didn’t keep the name of the family tradition. And a good restaurant it is indeed. I tried the tuna tartar and the pappardelle with boar ragu from the $37 prix fixe lunch menu. My husband, the "true" Italian and real tester, approved the Milanese (breaded veal) and we both exclaimed a delightful “mamma mia” when we tried the ricotta pumpkin pie.

390 Park Avenue at 53rd St.

212 888-2700

ZUCCA & RICOTTA graham crust, pumpkin cheesecake, cinnamon crumbles