food 05.16.07

Provence

When you're making the calculus of whether you want to return to a particular restaurant, it's not usually one thing that has you sold ("I'd go back for the porgy any night of the week!") but rather an accumulation of details that tips the scale one way or the other.

The restaurateurs behind the recently revived Provence, 38 Macdougal [Prince/Houston] 212.475.7500, surely know that: Five Points and Cookshop, which they also own, prove the point consistently. Provence, though it's early days, gets some of the big things right — you'll find a sprightly makeover, a menu from the south of France that seems like an old friend you haven't seen in ages, a warm welcome, a pleasant waitstaff.

Yet there are so many missteps, large and small. The prawns are an unholy mess of a dish, closer to a seafood salt lick onto which a heavy hand has randomly unloaded half of the Spice Islands. That's no way to treat a shrimp that, at this point in its career, can ask for nothing more than to taste of shrimp. Conversely, the aioli that accompanies the salt cod fritters seems weirdly timid. A little garlic would help.

It's not really a mistake to serve a pissaladiére at room temperature, but here it's not a virtue, either. It tastes mostly of a thing that has been sitting. Our server, greener than Picholine olives, asks us: "Why is it called pissaladiére? Is it because it sounds like pizza?" No, it's because of the pissalat paste — salted fish, usually anchovies, and herbs — that tops the crust. And isn't that a question better posed during a staff meeting? Just saying.

On the subject of origins, not sure we'd list the Vacqueyras under wines of Provence — we'd go with Côtes du Rhône. And the restaurant doesn't offer bread, except if you order one the excellent artisanal cheeses. Okay, but — speaking of Picholines — wouldn't it be nice to throw down at least some olives to get things rolling?

We'd like to say that Provence is back with us. It's not yet. They've got the laid-back, sunny clime vibe part down. Now someone needs to crack a whip.


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