The Old World mystique has always intrigued Americans. Indeed, this nation has carried on a long-standing love affair with all things European. French culture, in particular, and specifically French food, has always represented the epitome of good taste. Every city has at least one French restaurant where the creme de la creme congregates to enjoy the finest cooking this side of heaven, While most foreign restaurants [Italian, Chinese, Indian] have Americanized their menus, the French restaurant has kept its menu shrouded in the mystery of a foreign language. Not only are the dishes hard to pronounce, what they are and how they are prepared defies the cooking comprehension of most laymen chefs.
However, the intricate style of preparing classical French food is beginning to lose ground to a simpler, faster method of cooking. Succulent cuts of meat are no longer being overwhelmed by excessively rich cream sauces; instead, they are quickly sautéed and enhanced by lighter, more delicate ones.
This nouvelle cuisine, just lately introduced in the US, has caught on quickly with our diet-conscious public. Some erroneously label it as low-calorie food. But while this new style of cooking is certainly lower in calories and cholesterol than its traditional counterpart, it is definitely not diet food.
The number of restaurants featuring this nouvelle cuisine is limited but growing, and some will prepare it to order if a call is made sufficiently in advance. Most of those that specialize in it cater to the posh East Side café society, busy midtown executives and tourists attracted to the more famous establishments. However, tucked away on a heavily commercial block in the City’s Chelsea section is the Second Edition Restaurant, which offers its patrons a tasty and reasonably priced introduction to the latest wave in French gastronomy.
Billed as New York’s most novel supper club, Second Edition, as its name indicates, has a literary theme. On its menu, which is presented in book form, appetizers are Prologues, salads are Essays, soups are Outlines, entrées are Great Expectations, desserts are Epilogues, and the wine list is called The Grapes of Wrath, There is a reasonable amount of latitude in the selection of food, but the owners would like to broaden the menu even more as the number of regular patrons increases.
In a recent interview, head chef Michael Moran explained that the new style of French cooking has been greatly influenced by the Oriental method of preparing food, in which certain basic steps are accomplished in advance, so that the final cooking process takes only a few minutes. An appropriate example is the Second Edition’s Escalopes of Veal Chasseur — an exceptional combination of scallopini, tomatoes, mushrooms and shallots. The gravy makes full use of a pan stock, which is complemented by a previously prepared base. The quickly sautéed meat never loses its distinctive character to the sauce, which contains no cream. Long grain and wild rice, cooked to a perfect consistency, and crisp, tender broccoli that retains its bright appetizing green color, so often lost to overcooking, accompany the veal entrée.
Another ROUTES recommendation is the Cream of Broccoli soup. Although it is rich with butter and cream — the staples of traditional French kitchens — it is not so heavy as to diminish the enjoyment of later courses. The house salad consists of a generous portion of crisp lettuce and fresh ripe tomatoes — a small charge for blue cheese dressing is worth the extra expenditure.
In contrast with the near-divine, there were some disappointments. The Shrimp Scampi was fresh but served without the famous butter sauce laced with garlic, making it too dry and flat. A well-aged Gruyère cheese elevated the French onion soup from palatable to savory.
If the diner is able to venture into the epilogue of this delectable tome [dessert, that is], Chocolate Mousse, Buttermilk Carrot Cake and Pumpkin Cheesecake are on hand for one’s perusal. If your taste runs to the more delicate, lighter type of pastry, the Pumpkin Cheesecake will be more to your liking. The Buttermilk Carrot Cake had a heavy, shredded consistency and may be too filling after consuming a large meal. The mousse was not reviewed but provides a lingering temptation to return.
The Second Edition prides itself on the freshness of its food, which is purchased early each morning and individually prepared to order, Daily specials vary according to availability. Reservations are strongly recommended so that sufficient quantities are on hand.
The freshest, most exquisitely prepared food, however, loses some of its appeal if not served in the appropriate atmosphere. The Second Edition pampers its clientele with fresh-cut flowers, plants, candlelight, soft music and pink linens. Original artworks, which are for sale, adorn the exposed brick walls.
Whether you are a gourmet or a gourmand, the Second Edition’s à la carte menu [prices for the various entrées range from $4.95 to $10.95, for desserts from $1.80 to $3.75] will accommodate you. The Second Edition is located at 251 West 26th Street [between Seventh and Eighth Avenues]. All major credit cards are accepted, and parking is free after 7 p.m. The restaurant is operating on an abbreviated schedule, so one should phone in advance (924-2944) for lunch or dinner reservations.