If you’ve forgotten why traditional French food was once the standard bearer, visit La Gamelle for a refresher course. Far from boring, these are exciting renditions of the classics—prime examples of how bistro cuisine should be prepared and served.
Under the new direction of consulting chef Michael Burbella and executive chef Denis Kuc, La Gamelle has reached new heights. Burbella brings his broad experience, education, travel and training to the bistro on Bowery in New York City. He has cooked at Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar & Grill, and held executive chef positions at Lamu and Table 8 in Montclair. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Burbella spent several years staging in Europe, including at three-starred Michelin restaurants in France (George Blanc and Regis Marcon) where he gained a deep understanding of French cuisine.
Executive chef Kuc, originally from Yugoslavia, has been working in New York City for 15 years. His influences include Laurent Tourondel (he cooked at both BLT Bar & Grill and BLT Fish), John Fraser at Dovetail, Gabriel Kreuther at The Modern, and Terrence Brennan at Artisanal (where Kuc was executive sous chef). He graduated from the Institute for Culinary Education.
Pastry chef Richard Chirol rounds out the culinary leadership. He not only creates the desserts for the restaurant but also supplies pastries to the Majestic Diner, Alice’s Arbor and Market, and other establishments. He also plans to offer baking classes in the near future. There’s also a new master sommelier, the knowledgeable Harold Toussaint, founder of the Wine School and winner of many French wine competitions. Head of operations Aida Sosa, assisted by Jhosiah Huerta, complete the leadership team.
New additions to the menu include an improved raw bar with a more varied offerings of East and West Coast oysters and the addition of raw clams. The menu, which is updated seasonally and offers daily specials, includes dishes like onion soup gratinee, foie gras terrine and pate de campagne to start; four variations on moules frites (saffron, mariniere, Provençale, and curry), duck confit, steak frites with béarnaise sauce as mains. An appetizer of roasted octopus “citronette” is tender and charred in the right measure, escargots are served piping hot in the shell with compelling garlic parsley butter, and steak tartare is seasoned to perfection.
For the main course, filleted branzino, crisp around the edges and moist in the center, has a colorful Mediterranean flair from the braised cherry tomatoes, fennel confit, artichokes, olives and bright green olive oil that surrounds it. Roast duck is served with natural jus. Demi-poulet roti is also divine in its simplicity—flavorful roasted chicken with root vegetables and silky mashed potatoes. Braised short ribs “bourguignon” are concentrated with the rich flavor of the reduced wine sauce and served with the Platonic ideal of pommes frites—crispy golden on the outside with a satisfying bite of fluffy potato inside. Similarly, the côte de boeuf, a stunning rendition of a classic—is 36 ounces of prime beef, dry aged for 40 days, with a beautiful char, cooked perfectly to temperature and served with a side of béarnaise sauce and frites. For dessert, there are selections such as real, rich chocolate mousse, crème brulee with a crackling sugar top, tarte tatin, and profiterole—choux pastries filled with vanilla ice cream and covered with rich, hot chocolate sauce.
Brunch showcases the 10-ounce certified Angus beef burger (also available at dinner) served with gruyere cheese, truffle mayonnaise, caramelized onions, mushrooms and frites, and thick slabs of applewood smoked bacon, as well as the classic bistro sandwiches such as the Croque Monsieur (ham, cheese and béchamel) and Croque Madame (also topped with an egg). Other features include a selection of egg dishes like eggs Florentine, the omelette du jour with market vegetables, and the chipolata breakfast (two eggs any style, chipolata sausage, roasted tomatoes, and greens). Homemade pastries are baked especially for brunch including pain au chocolat, almond croissants and country muffins.
The new cocktail program was inspired by cocktails created by the expats who escaped Prohibition by setting up shop in Paris, and the cocktails that they created in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The cocktails all begin with good base spirits, and like everything else at La Gamelle, stay true to the classics, and are prepared the right way. In particular, the Boulevardier (a Negroni with whiskey instead of gin), mentioned by Harry’s bar founder, Harry McElhone, in his book “Barflies and Cocktails,” is the creation of Erskine Gwynne, the wealthy young American who started a magazine called The Boulevardier. Other new additions to the list are the White Negroni (gin, Lillet Blanc, Suze), and the more contemporary drink, The Penicillin (scotch, honey, lemon juice, fresh ginger). French and Belgian beers are available on tap and by the bottle. The wine list, now under the direction of sommelier Harold Toussaint, offers a generous selection of wines from all over France and some from the U.S., by the glass and by the bottle.
The new Gallerists’ Menu, a tribute to the neighboring New Museum and plethora of nearby art galleries, is a special treat for the wine lover. Offered from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, it includes three courses drawn from the complete menu (appetizer, main, and dessert) for $35, and for an additional $10, guests are treated to some of the finest wines on the list, not typically available by the glass.