Saturday, December 21, 2013

DOING DISHES: Part IV of V - Dinner at Provence

I've been eating out a lot, and eating a lot, these past two weeks. After a small but nasty virus took down the Goddess of Fire for Thanksgiving, I now have my appetite back, and my friends are less afraid of me now since I'm not hacking and spitting all the time. Tis the season.  A vos souhaits!, santé!

With a new menu after years of the same ol' same ol', it was a pleasure to dine again at Provence, located in Stuyvesant Plaza on Western Avenue in Guilderland, NY.  Foodie Friend and I took Subaru out to celebrate her birthday. So of course we started with the wine list. Voudriez-vous un autre verre de vin?
The bar near the entry at Provence

Provence offers up a varied selection of over 150 wines, mostly priced by the bottle but with enough to choose from to order up by the glass/es. I'd say they were very reasonably priced, most at the lower end of $7.00 to $12.00 each. I indulged in a couple of glasses of Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais nouveau 2014, a nice light, dry and sort of one-dimensional goes-with-everything kind of young wine, while Subaru enjoyed Santi Sortesele Pinot Grigio from Veneto, Italy. This was also rather light, not too dry or sweet (well balanced, unlike us after glass #2). Both glasses were a generous pour. FF decided on a Bombay Sapphire martini, sans vermouth. The server forgot to ask her what she wanted for a garnish when she took our first order, but returned promptly with a skewered snack of three fat green olives. It made FF shine. Elle brille comme le soleil.

Looking at the menu I'd say that now it is a little less French and a bit more Mediterranean, including a nice selection of a dozen or so tapas, including Petit Cassoulet and Assorted Spicy Olives. In addition to this were a choice of six appetizers (all very French except for Lobster Mac & Cheese, which I  thought was a weird item to find on this kind of menu), a raw bar selection, and five or six simple side salads. Also a nice selection of specials. If I remember right, in the same ol' same ol' good old days the emphasis here was on the entrees, and it wasn't AT ALL vegetarian friendly. With a couple of exceptions all of the entree items (these are still very French, actually) can be ordered as a regular or small portion, with quite a few meatless options.  Overall the new menu really gives the diner an opportunity to explore the menu and eat a nice variety without overeating. Which we did anyway. Est-ce que je peux respirer dans ces pantalons serrés?

We started with six oysters on the halfshell, shared three ways. Four were from north shore Nova Scotia, including Wallace Bay and Tatamagouche (which I had to pronounce properly for our server), and two were from Connecticut (we assumed Hartford, which was good for a quick giggle). They were served on a bed of ice with a garlicky vinaigrette and a classic cocktail sauce on the side, as well as several nice big hunks of fresh lemon (nicely trimmed back of seeds and skin so I didn't squirt anyone). The oysters were all pretty large, but the two from CT were the largest. Everything tasted clean and fresh, no sand, nice and cold, and the sauces were tasty. A very nice start. Délicieux.

The next course was, for me, the centerpiece, since it was Reason #2, after celebrating a birthday, for dining at Provence, and that was to try their mussels. This is Restaurant #4 and the last (for now) in our Doing Dishes series on mussels (see our previous posts for reviews of Garden Bistro 24, The Merry Monk, and The Bier Abbey). Next month we try our hand at making them at home (with wine by the bottle this time!). Maybe a sleepover.... Est-ce que je peux transmettre maintenant?

My mobile phone did me in again and the picture I took of the mussels, while I made everyone wait, is not in my gallery. I'm waiting for FF to send me a shot, if she has it. Merde. (You probably can translate that one without too much trouble). HA! She has the shot. Here it is:

The Moules Marinieres were "a la creme", sitting in a rich and decadent sauce made with the classic combination of white wine and shallots and a few herbs (and supposedly tomato). Served with a couple of slices of toasted cornbread, we dug in heartily. I can't imagine the chef cooking the mussels in this type of sauce - it would just water it down. Thick, creamy, and delicious, it clung nicely to the mussel meat and to our palettes. The serving was on the appetizer menu but it was a generous one-pounder with lots of sauce and would be a perfect entree for us petite superheroes. The mussels were tender, fresh, clean and absolutely divine. Hey, we found a tomato bit!!! Until we do our "official" comparison of mussels in our local eateries I have to say I thought these were really the best. Squirters!!! (There's no translation for this. Really.)

Following this I enjoyed a bowl of the Soup de Jour of the day, a thick concoction of potato, Manchego cheese, apples and bacon. Warm and yummy, a bit salty but that's to be expected. Why stop now??? I also enjoyed a Salade Maison - simple greens, lightly dressed, and a Goat Cheese & Sun-Dried Tomato Tartlette. The tart pastry kind of stuck in my mouth and dried it out, I don't know why, but it was rich and otherwise delicious. Puis-je boire plus de vin maintenant?

By this time things were a bit blurry - it's not you!

Foodie Friend ordered the Lobster Mac & Cheese and said it was really good - a nice size (small) serving, perfect for something that would be overwhelming as a large portion. The sauce was almost a Bechamel, not too cheesy, not too viscous, so the flavor of the lobster and the herbs really came through. Topped with a light crust of panko, she enjoyed it with her Salade Maison as her "main course". (In Nova Scotia please note that le homard sont des bogues.)

Subaru ordered a small portion of the Steak Frites. The sauce, a bordelaise, was delicious served with her perfectly cooked hanger steak. The meat was tender and the serving also came with a side of veggies. The small serving was still ample, more than enough for most mere mortals, I think. The frites were a bit soggy, however, but they tasted good. Je n'ai jamais rencontré un français fry je n'aurais pas manger.

Why stop now!!! We finished with a dessert of Chocolate Marquis, a semi frozen layer cake with both dark and milk chocolate mousses with an almond shortbread crust. Beautiful, avec candle, and delicious. (What is the plural of mousse???)

It's a busy time of year in the restaurants and our Friday night at Provence was no exception. At 5:30 we checked our coats and settled in - the place was still pretty quiet. Two hours later the bar was 8 people deep and most tables were occupied. It's a professional crowd, kind of classy, a drink after work sort of feeling, but with a few tired shoppers there was still a casual presence to the place. It's very pretty, nicely decorated, large, low light. Around 8:00 we were entertained by a lounge lizard two-man band. That was a bit loud for conversation, so on music night if you are trying to communicate with other humans without waving your hands a lot and shouting you might want to ask for a table in the back. Unless you are French, then waving your arms a lot and shouting are just fine. (Quelles ??? Veuillez répéter!)

Yes, ate out again. It was good. Merveilleux!

Zena, Goddess of Fire


SugaCube said...

Love the whole description of the evening -- the reviews of all items were spectacular! I've enjoyed the series and look forward to doing my own sampling.

SugaCube said...

Loved the whole review as it was so very comprehensive. The Mussels Series was terrific and has inspired me to do my own sampling. Can't wait to hear about your efforts to best the best.