Thursday, December 11, 2008

Marseille (New York City)

I have never been a fan of French food. I know that's blasphemous. I understand it is regarded as probably the best in the world. But I have never had a meal at a French restaurant that I loved. I will always choose an Asian or South American restaurant over a French if given the choice, and, when it comes to Europe, I much prefer Spanish or Italian. I have eaten food cooked by a Belgian friend of mine who used to live here, and it was much better than any French food I have ever had, particularly her waterzooi, a thick seafood stew that, when paired with a Corsendonk Christmas Ale, has to crack any top ten list of meals I have had.

So on a recent trip to New York, when my friend suggested a French restaurant after we had spent a few hours at MOMA, I cringed but agreed. I'm old enough now to appreciate trying things on vacation that I would never seek out at home. (I once spent more than a week in Italy when I was young and stupid, and the number of meals I ate at McDonald's is truly embarrassing.)

Marseille is a beautiful restaurant, no question: full of light and mirrors and elegant chandeliers. It was nowhere near as unfriendly as most French restaurants I have been in. I certainly was in the mood to try something new, until I saw a man a couple tables away eating a burger. The burger itself looked great, but my eyes were drawn to the pommes frites. I love fries but there are precious few restaurants that I think cook them well. So I put my sense of adventure aside and ordered the burger.

It was indeed fantastic. It was cooked as close to the ideal medium-rare as any burger I have ever had. It was served with caramelized onions, comte cheese (I had never heard of this; it's a cow's milk cheese from eastern France) and aioli. The pommes frites were perfect. Even the few greens on the side of the plate, tossed with oil and I think lemon juice, were fantastic.

My friend had the "Mediterranean lamb salad." The lamb was cooked just as perfectly as my burger, and topped with feta cheese, yogurt sauce & a lemon vinaigrette. It was great as well. Part of me wished I'd order it, too, as well as a side of frites.

Marseille may not be the best French restaurant I have ever been to, but it is certainly my favorite.

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