La Maison du Croque Monsieur: Greenwich Village, New York

Having just returned from sampling croque monsieurs and a good number of croque madames at virtually every cafe in Paris (Cafe de Flore, Deux Magots, Cafe Le Select and Cafe de la Paix to name a few), I was stoked about le grande opening of La Maison du Croque Monsieur in my own backyard on East 13th.

Brought to you by the nice folks behind the Petite Abeille Belgian restaurant chain, I was looking forward to authentic croque monsieurs. A true croque monsieur (the feminine croque madame being distinguished by the addition of a fried ovum on top) is grilled bread with jambon de Paris, meltingly nutty gruyere and that mother of all white sauces... bechamel, made from the sensual commingling of milk and roux. The ham, cheese and sauce envelop the toast both inside and outside.

To call it "French grilled cheese" would be the equivalent of denigrating its fellow and more familiar French crepe by comparing it to the stuff sold at IHOP. I had high expectations for La Maison du Croque Monsieur, most of which were met. The single disappointment was that for expediency, less mess and to facilitate take out, the ingredients were relegated only to the inside with the outer toast being grilled and pressed like a panini or, dare I say it, grilled cheese. However, the ingredients were happily authentic with the toast barely containing the drippy white cheese and bechamel mixture which completely coated the jambon de Paris. In fact, by rolling the toast in the drippings in the quaint wooden atelier-like dining room upstairs, my initial disappointment was washed away by the bechamel sauce.

My narrow purist authentic traditional croque monsieur universe was also quickly expanded with the additional choice of other French cheeses besides gruyere. One cannot quibble with the possibility of substituting comte or raclette for example. There are also meat variations in lieu of jambon de Paris such as bresaola, pork and even turkey which I expect to get around to eventually as well as a croque madame "eggstravaganza". I let my French guard down entirely to try a dessert croque of banana,nutella and mascarpone which would have made even Elvis shout in his best French accent "La Maison du Croque Monsieur: C'est Bon!"

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