Has anyone noticed the renaissance of French influenced cooking, both casual and more refined, in New York City lately? It may not be quite as extensive as the explosion of Italian oriented restaurants of recent years, as visible as the rise of Ramen or other Japanese establishments, or as momentous as the mounting presence of Mexican, but the French, once the city’s most dynamic dining presence, are once again flexing their culinary muscles to reclaim a starring role in New York’s restaurant firmament. There hasn’t been a time over the last century or longer during which French food has not had influence or found favor, most strongly during the mid-Twentieth Century, but that leading role had been largely reduced in recent years despite the very capable torch bearing of people like Daniel Boulud. While Boulud’s restaurants continue to produce, they have been joined by a number of other newer establishments proudly bearing the French moniker. Places like Rotisserie Georgette from key former Boulud employee Georgette Farkas, Dirty French from the Carbone/Torrisi juggernaut, Parisian import Racines and the latest one, Rebelle from the group behind neighboring Pearl & Ash. The latter two are perhaps the most similar amongst those mentioned, as both serve relatively straightforward, but delicious French inspired cuisine from Parisian-trained chefs, that is designed to be extremely wine-friendly. Indeed, at Rebelle, the only wines served are either from France or the United States.
Patrick Cappiello is an owner and the Wine Director of both Rebelle and its sister restaurant, Pearl and Ash, located directly adjacent to Rebelle. At Rebelle, Kimberly Livingston Prokoshyn, formerly an assistant sommelier at Pearl and Ash, has been promoted to the head sommelier at Rebelle. Together they have put together a superb, extensive and nicely valued wine list at Rebelle, featuring only wines from France and the United States. Of course, given the predominance of French wines on the list, there are plenty of expensive options for anyone desiring to part with additional sums for the privilege. The list is divided first by color, then by predominant grape varietal, then by region and finally by producer. Looking for pairing versatility, I was thinking Pinot Noir and Cappiello directed me towards a Santenay from Paul Chapelle. It prove to be an inspired selection at a reasonable price of $75, roughly twice retail. Mellowed by a bit of bottle age, the wine still held on to lovely cherry and strawberry fruit with a hint of spice. Not overly tannic, it matched brilliantly across the range of dishes that were to come.
Lamb tartare was fresh and flavorful with a lovely balance of the primary flavors and great textures, while being distinctive enough to set itself apart from most of the other tartares gracing restaurant menus around the city.
Fluke is a fish that I never seem to tire of, which is good, because it is one to be found on many menus. Few, however, approach this Mediterranean styled dish in its sheer deliciousness.The flavors are classic, but the slightly thick and chunky cut of the pristine fish provided a superb texture to play of the fantastic flavors.
Chicken has made a strong comeback on restaurant menus. It used to be an item that I would never order, but now, it is frequently one of the best items on the menu. Eddy’s chicken is outstanding with expert execution and voluptuous flavors that remind why chicken became popular in the first place, until industrial agriculture put one in every pot.
I rarely miss ordering sweetbreads when I see them on a menu and didn’t miss this spring version with so many ingredients that I love. Surprisingly to me, while I enjoyed the dish, it was perhaps my least favorite of the meal, as the sweet lobster sauce dominated the flavor of the sweetbreads a touch more than I considered ideal. The dish was by no means bad. It was still quite good, just not as satisfying as the others that I tasted.
The menu at Rebelle is quite contemporary. It isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it meant to be. Nevertheless, each dish offers original flourishes to add to the precise execution and familiarity of the main ingredients. In this case, the immaculately prepared duck breast was augmented by a creamy smoked almond purée and contrasting endives. The result was rich and balanced without being cloying.
What Rebelle lacks in terms of a wide selection of cheese they make up for with quality in the form of a generous portion of ribbons of Comte. This dish necessitates sharing and is one of the few dishes at Rebelle for which sharing is encouraged.
Dessert was a classic – cherry clafoutis. This was embellished by a side of crème chantilly. It felt like it came direct from the French countryside and, like the Comte, was also designed for sharing.
Dinner at Rebelle is designed to be a four or even five course affair, though clearly it could be more or less at the individual’s discretion. Each “course” is priced at a single amount regardless of the dish chosen (e.g. all first courses are priced at a very reasonable $12). If all four courses were elected the total would come to a terrific value of only $61 – probably one of the best values in NYC. Given that my visit occurred after a day of meat-gorging at The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, my hunger level was not huge and so, I personally, just ordered a first and a second course from the dinner menu, while tasting the dishes ordered by my sons, who had been my dinner companions. The execution was top notch throughout and so were the conception of the dishes and the service, which is run by General Manager and co-owner Branden McRill. My only significant complaint involved the lighting, which is insufficient to read a menu and admire the lovely presentations of the food, let alone photograph it well (unfortunately, this remains a very common affliction in today’s restaurant world). If one is seeking the most cutting edge cooking then Rebelle is not the place for it, but if one is happy with delicious food with a contemporary edge, Rebelle will fit the bill. If one an oenophile looking for an interesting list and food friendly to the wines on the list, then Rebelle and Racines are perfect choices. It’s great to see restaurants like these, celebrating the glories of French cuisine both on the plate and in the glass, making a big-time comeback. Vivre la France!