Random Notes: Argentine Beef
[December 1998]


  0nly one type of restaurant goer could be alienated by Pâtisserie & Bistro, the Upper East Side's hottest new spot for Gallic indulgence: the old-fashioned kind who finds something disorienting about a high-caliber restaurant devoting itself to a multiplicity of functions. “Le Pavillon didn't sell any damned croissants,” this culinary Luddite might say. But for those comfortable with the movement away from specialization in America's restau-rants, Payard is nothing less than a glorious collision of gustatory possibilities, each of which brings something new and delicious to the New York food scene.
      The first function reflected in the res-taurant’s name is pâtisserie–and if there's a better one of these in this city, I'd like to know about it fast. The exquisite quality here makes perfect sense, of course, as the chef and co-owner, François Payard, is the gifted young man from Nice who dazzled diners as pastry chef at Le Bernardin, and then at Restaurant Daniel. The owner of that stellar establishment, Daniel Boulud, knows a good thing when he tastes it and helped his pâtissier raise the money for Payard where Boulud is a co-owner.
      Your introduction to the venture is an eye-popping array of glittering pastries nestled in display cases just past the Art Nouveau front doors. There are dream-inducing renditions of traditional petits gâteaux such as the sophisticated cream puffs called Paris-Brest and religieuse, and the napoleon. Other gems that spring from François's perfervid imagination include the feathery mango-coconut con-fection, Mont-St.-Michel; the Pont Neuf, a deeply flavored chocolate-mousse crea-tion; and the spectacular chocolate-and-hazelnut dome called Le Louvre.  And there are wonderful fruit tarts (par-ticularly the apple with créme Chiboust topping and the banana with pastry cream), full-sized cakes, babas, sweet croissants, éclairs, and house-made chocolates galore.


      If déjeuner is your choice, you can walk on the savory side, too. In addition to the sweets, those front cases contain marvel-ous cheese, meat, and vegetable panini (which get weighted and grilled); lovely quiches with light and crumbly crusts; and a seductive croque-monsieur–a gooey, béchamel-drenched, golden wonder of a ham-and-cheese sandwich, for those days when nothing but calories will do.
      In the main part of the restaurant you enter the domain of the establishment’s second declared function: bistro. Once again, Payard is hard to pin down. The simple, modern, personal food created here by Restaurant Daniel alumnus Philippe Bertineau is indeed reminiscent of food in contemporary Parisian bistros–but the clatter of this downstairs dining room, bouncing as it does off the wood floors and tall mirrors, creates a broader, more public sweep akin to that of a French brasserie.
      If you prefer the intimate bistro feel, dine at night in the carpeted, lower-ceilinged quieter upstairs where Bertineau's careful food seems most at home. He has certainly caught the Payard spirit from François; some of the menu's most appealing offerings feature pastry

Above: Grilling Marinated beef at Kang Suh; Payard's layered Dome Praline; and Solera, in midtown in various forms. A staple is the wonderfully flaky, buttery potato tourte filled with goat's-milk "Brie" and toasted walnuts. In spring, a lively citrus tart my turn up next to a bundle of asparagus. And, at any time, Bertineau may mimic François's penchant for layering flavors inside pastry. One of the most delicious things I've tasted at Payard was a phyllo package with a filling of garlic crème brûlée, gingerbread, and asparagus soufflé.


      At main-course time, most of the excitement's in the long-cooked meat dishes. The white-meat roast chicken, stuffed with duxelles, sweetbreads, and a little foie gras served with buttery garlic-mashed potatoes, is an unmitigated wow, as is the crunchy-skinned house-made confit of duck (an occasional special). I've also enjoyed the lamb shank in a brown sauce kissed by orange rind and, in winter, the hearty, tender, burnished braise of short ribs of beef.
      Wine enhances it all, to be sure. Sweet-natured Jean-David Bordonaro does double-duty as mâtre d' and sommelier, and in the latter function he's gathered an impressive list from lesser-known corners of France. My two favorites are, for white, the well-balanced 1996 Chasselas made by Domaine Schoffit in Alsace ($33) and, for red, the rich 1993. Coteaux du Languedoc from Domaine Peyre Rose ($53 and worth it).
       Curiously, not all of the offerings on the dessert menu are stellar. Only the fabulous, layered Dome
Praliné has consistently aided in the knocking off of my argyles. But a little negotiation with the waiter will bring any permutation of pâtisserie-case treats to your table at which point the walls between the delicious, variegated functions of Payard come down and all of François's painstaking ministrations fold into one supremely rewarding experience. Lunch starters at Payard range from $8 to $12 and sandwiches and tarts from $10 to $13; lunchtime main courses hover around $21. Dinner starters are $9 to $15, and main courses are $21 to$25. Desserts are $8. The pâtisserie is open Monday to Saturday from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M.; tea is served between 3:30 and 5 on those days. The restaurant is open for lunch from noon to 2:30 Monday through Thursday and until 3 on Fridays and Saturdays. It is open for dinner from 6 to 10:30 Monday through Thursday and until 11 on Fridays and Saturdays.

1032 Lexington Avenue
(Between 73rd and 74th streets)
(212) 717-5252