There is a rumor floating around Manhattan that the space at 24 Fifth Avenue is cursed for restaurants. It’s too expensive a piece of real estate, in the heart of Greenwich Village, to be taking a chance on survival. The Accidental Locavore had lunch at the most recent incarnation, Claudette, a ProvenÁ§al spot that opened recently.
It’s a very pleasant room, airy, whitewashed, full of hard surfaces and totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Provence (but, hey, there’s a lot of Provence, I’ve yet to visit). The staff is young, attractive and attentive. The menu, while concise, is physically large, with two of them fighting for space, on a table for two.
The lamb was interesting — think of pulled pork but substitute lamb (my guess would be a shank), nicely flavored, and tossed with a minimum of frisse, a few chickpeas (literally three) and slices of the majority of an apricot, although the menu listed asparagus. The sherry vinaigrette could have used some more acid to balance out the richness of the lamb and I thought the salad was over-dressed (so not French!). Usually, I’m not a fan of fruit in a salad, however the apricots were beautiful and tasted great, so I’m allowed to make exceptions, right?
My friend’s salad was chunks of white-meat chicken on a bed of greens, with ribbons of carrots (lots of them) and almost a crumble of ground pistachios and bulgur. The dressing was an orange vinaigrette with a lot of cumin. Cumin played a surprisingly large role in all of the dishes we had; it was in my lamb, her chicken (a lot!) and even in the fries.
We make a lot of assumptions about French food, one of them being that if someone is trying hard to replicate France in New York (or anyplace else), they’re going to have good frites. These looked good, in a paper cone, but were not hot, crispy, or salty enough. They were tossed in ras el hanout, a Moroccan blend of warm spices. Sounds good on paper, but fries with even a tinge of cinnamon are definitely weird. That plus the omnipresent cumin pretty much ruined the fries.
We split a piece of cheese for dessert that the waitress forgot to tell us was a blue cheese, but it was fine and came with some nice crusty bread and a fig compote. This lunch for two, with two glasses of rosé and a coffee was about $100, but could easily have been higher — remember you are on Fifth Avenue.
If you didn’t expect Claudette to be French, and more specifically ProvenÁ§al, you would probably enjoy it. It leans more towards Morocco, with the use of spices, a lot of the dishes, the tiled walls and the tajines on display. This is not a bad thing, just not as marketable (or mark-upable) as France, I guess.