Le Périgord: Classic French Dining as It Should Be
There was once a time when upscale dining in New York City was synonymous with high-end French fare, and dishes like Dover sole, duck à l’orange, and pike quenelles were as commonplace on fine-dining menus as $25 burgers are today. At the height of this trend, in the mid-1960s, now-vanished restaurants like Lutèce, La Côte Basque, and La Caravelle weren’t just restaurants, they were temples to fine dining, serving not only a white tablecloth experience but a sense of theatricality that’s all but vanished from the dining scene, with an exuberant host greeting you at the door (who oftentimes was also the owner), a polished maître d’, captains running service and plating dishes tableside with a whole lot of flair, diners in jackets and ties, and a sense of elegance that permeated the whole experience.
If you’re looking for that experience today, your options are limited. La Grenouille is still going strong, but good luck dining there without taking out a second mortgage on your house. If you’re looking to capture that old-fashioned high-end dining experience, your best bet is to head to Le Périgord.
“Bonjour, bonjour! How many are you?” you’ll hear as you walk through the door, delivered with a smile by none other than owner Georges Briguet, who’s been at the helm with his wife Marie-Thérèse since he first opened it in 1964. Briguet is a living legend, and as he escorts you to your table you get the sense that he’ll make sure that your meal goes off without a hitch. And a recent dinner there, by the invitation of the restaurant, was definitely an experience to remember.
Meals inside this comfortable 100-seat dining room (which was recently spiffed up but hasn’t changed much since Liz Taylor and Richard Burton famously dined there in 1964) progress at a leisurely pace, and it’s clear that nobody there is in a hurry. You’ll be halfway through your cocktail before you see a menu, and once your meal is through, nobody will rush you out.
As your meal progresses, it becomes clear that this isn’t just some holdover resting on its laurels; the food here is spectacular, and new chef Alexis Bericourt has given even the tried-and-true dishes new life. A foie gras terrine with sauternes aspic is rich and perfectly balanced, and when Briguet tells you that the lobster bisque recipe was handed down by Escoffier himself, you believe him (it’s flawless). Duck à l’orange is carved tableside and flambéed with much fanfare, but the duck itself is perfectly cooked and crispy-skinned, and the sauce isn’t the least bit cloying. The beef bourguignon is tender and incredibly flavorful, and seems like it took days to prepare. And when the dessert trolley rolls through, the tarts are fresh and bursting with ripe fruit, the chocolate mousse is airy but sturdy enough to hold up your spoon, and the classic ile flottante (or “floating island,” a meringue floating in a bowl of crème anglaise) is impossibly light and eggy. Request an after-dinner drink from Georges and you may find that after pouring you a glass of Calvados he leaves the bottle on your table, returning later to offer a refill.
Le Périgord isn’t stuffy in the least; rather, it’s a neighborhood spot for those choosing to dine in old-fashioned comfort. Georges greets many of the guests who walk through the door by name (he also has a habit of giving regulars titles like the Ambassador or the Contessa), and at nearly 80 years old manages to visit every table in the 100-person restaurant, making sure everyone is happy. While you should probably at least wear a jacket, a handful of misguided first-timers who showed up in shorts were greeted just as warmly as everyone else.
There’s a sense of hospitality at Le Périgord that you just don’t find in many other restaurants these days, and it’s clearly not just for show: This team knows exactly what they’re doing, and they’ve been doing it this way for many, many years. The fine-dining experience is rapidly changing these days, but time stands still here, in the absolute best way possible. So go to Le Périgord the next time you’re looking to splurge a little on dinner; it’s an experience you’re not likely to forget and a reminder of what real fine dining once looked (and tasted) like.