(Grand Marnier creme brulee at Pomme Café)
Pomme Café (37-19 Broadway Ave., Astoria)
Perhaps it was the release of the movie Julia & Julia coinciding with Restaurant Week that sent me on an admittedly somewhat neurotic tour de force searching the best french cuisine in New York City this past winter. My poor, brave roommates had to try my over-lavendered attempt at beef bourguignon (I got a wee bit zealous with the herbes de provence) which smelled more like a new Soft Soap Body Wash fragrance than savory beef tips in wine sauce.
I found myself consuming copious amounts of foie gras and tuna tartare while dining at Cafe Boulud, Nougatine (at Jean-Georges), and Le Cirque over the span of just a few days. When after my fourth visit to Nougatine in just one month, my friend and fellow francophile, Mike, and I had tried literally every combination on their prix fixe menu, I knew that something needed to be done, or my loved ones might have to stage an intervention. Besides the fact that a diet of goose liver and sticks of butter isn't particularly healthy on a daily basis, $40 lunches are neither frugal nor even remotely sensible.
After searching for a more reasonable French menu that still served quality cuisine, and one particularly disastrous meal at a French restaurant just around the corner from my house, I had all but given up hope. It seemed that my addiction to the culinary classics was doomed only to be fed in Manhattan, and only at the expense of risking late rent payments each month.
That's when I saw a post on Why Leave Astoria? A fellow WLA member, Jen Rock, gave a tantalizing brief review of a new French restaurant in Astoria, Pomme Café and Brasserie. The best part? It offers an $8 prix fixe lunch that includes soup (creamy tomato or french onion), a small salad, and any sandwich. With three courses, that averages to less than $3 a course!
Long story short... her recommendation was right on target. I found myself sitting at the same table by the window several days in a row (yeh, it's really that great), accompanied by various friends (literally everyone in my life knows that a meal with me means experimenting with new dishes, and always sharing tastes).
The lush, gold-leafed interior was straight out of Paris, and the open-aired dining room carried the aromas of melted gruyere, fresh bread, and cabernet swirling around me the entire meal. Here's a sample of what my friends and I enjoyed over the course of a few days.
The creamy tomato soup was a perfect sandwich pairing for the prix fixe (ask for it to accompany the sandwich so you can use it to dip... otherwise, it arrives as an appetizer).
I have never quite so much enjoyed a croque madame as I did this one. Brioche toast with seared country ham, creamy bechamel, melted gruyere, and a fried egg.
Seared foie gras on a pedestal of caramelized apples with a hazelnut praline foam.
Ponzu-marinated ahi tuna tartar with a mango cucumber salad.
For a somewhat lighter, yet satisfying meal, try the generous frisee aux lardons ($10). A bed of paper-thin cucumber slices, frisee lettuce, warm bacon shallot vinaigrette, and a sublimely poached egg on top.
I will return again, and again, and again for their unbeatable version of bœuf bourguignon. This hearty bowl of red wine braised beef with carrots, potatoes, and onions was absolutely phenomenal.
Though the Grand Marnier creme brulee (pictured at the head of this post) wins the award for delectable dessert, how can you go wrong with a bowl of profiteroles (chocolate dipped cream puffs with fresh berries)?
Though the food was consistently outstanding during each visit, the service did waiver somewhat. One day, the server forgot our hors d'œuvres entirely, adding another half hour to the meal while we waited (though not an unpleasant experience altogether). As they say in France, "c'est la vie." She did apologize with a complimentary dessert, which although unnecessary, was a kind gesture of her hospitality.
Despite the dodgy service only that one day, the star of the show here is remarkable French fare. Pomme Café is sure to soon secure its place at the top of the list of reasons to visit Astoria, or stay there if you already call it home.