Michel Guerard’s La Ferme aux Grives in the town of Eugenie-les-Bains is the best bistro in the world, but it tends to be overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, the 3 Michelin starred Les Pres d’Eugenie. Chef Marc Forgione trained under Guerard (at both venues) before making a name for himself on The Iron Chef at the turn of the century. The son of chef Larry Forgione, who ran his own revolutionary restaurant An American Place, Marc won a Michelin star when he was 30 years old. His eponymous restaurant in downtown Manhattan has evolved from a dressy, fine-dining restaurant into the more casual iteration it is today, serving modern American food with quality regional ingredients.
I am extremely partial to a good brioche and the ones at Marc Forgione were the best I’ve had in a long time
There are no tablecloths, carpets, or chandeliers. The chairs are so no-frills they feel like they have been nicked from a hospital waiting room. On my visit the dining room itself was dark – almost too dark. I could still see the colour of my food, but alas it wasn’t bright enough to stop teenagers taking pictures of their food without an obnoxious external lamp. In the background, the playlist was classic rock – the refrains from Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, and later on AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, were just loud enough to be audible, but not loud enough to drown out a conversation.
Along with the menu, the waiter brought a complimentary amuse bouche of miniature bagels with cream cheese, and a couple of buns. These were fluffy mini brioches, with a thin crust and topped with dried seaweed flakes, which evoked memories of the bacon brioche Restaurant Gordon Ramsay used to serve. I am extremely partial to a good brioche and the ones at Marc Forgione were the best I’ve had in a long time.
When I order a lobster starter in a restaurant I don’t expect the whole lobster. But that was what arrived on my table: poached, then stir-fried in a chili and lime sauce, supposedly influenced by Singapore chili crab sauce. As a proud Singaporean I can definitively say this was not chili crab sauce, but it was balanced, acidic, sweet and with just the right amount of heat. It also came with Texas thick toast, which I used to soak up every last drop of the chili sauce.
The main course was Chicken “under a brick”. This was a whole free-range chicken, deboned and roasted in the oven with a brick resting on top of it, served with chicken-fat roasted potatoes, broccolini and fried onions. The sauce was just the basting liquid. It was a simple, sinful dish, and I could not stop myself from grinning when I ate it. By living in the US, one comes to realise the impact of intensive factory farming on quality and taste. Chicken tends to be so tasteless and limp, it actually makes sense that McDonalds Chicken Nuggets are the way they are. This specimen, by Bell & Evans of Pennsylvania, was flavourful, moist, and nutty. The difference between this chicken and what you would find in an average supermarket is stark. You almost can’t believe that they’re the same species!
I was stuffed but ordered pudding anyway. The doughnut with an apple and cinnamon sugar filling was good, but it wasn’t St John good (nobody makes doughnuts like St John). The daily special, an apple crumble with salted caramel ice cream, proved to be a better choice, and I really enjoyed the different textures of soft ice cream, crumbly biscuit and crunchy baked apple. The coffee was a little pricey but at least it came from a proper espresso machine (too many places serve Nespresso these days and think they can get away with it).
This is the best meal I’ve had in New York so far. The service was forthcoming without being intrusive, and the ambience, despite the darkness, was relaxing.
This is the best meal I’ve had in New York so far
I realised when writing this review I was comparing this meal to the best that Europe has to offer, and I think Restaurant Marc Forgione offers a competitive experience. And it is good value too; three courses, including lobster and a whole roast chicken for less than $90 (£70) per person, is as good as it gets in a city as expensive as this. It will be a first for me in New York, but I think I will grant Restaurant Marc Forgione the honour of a return visit.
134 Reade Street
New York 10013
by J Khou