Romance, to paraphrase a Jane Seymour TV commercial, has never gone out of style.
So how much would Jane love La Crémaillère? Originally opened in 1947 in a farmhouse dating from the 1750s, this Bedford establishment was voted one of the 100 most romantic restaurants in America by OpenTable in 2017. Closing in 2020 amid Covid and legal troubles, La Crémaillère has reopened under new ownership, specifically businessman-Greenwich Polo Club player Peter Orthwein and the family of Westchester County-based attorney David Boies.
And that’s good news for romantics everywhere who like to revel in some good old-fashioned, elegant dining.
It’s a cheerful sight that greets you right upon entering — a free-standing, deep-buttoned leather-clad bar where the bartender is busy polishing bottles as he waits for the next order to come — a sign of the restaurant itself. At La Crém, everything sparkles and no member of the well-drilled front-of-the-house team is idle for even a moment.
A few modifications from earlier, pre-pandemic visits are all to the good. The table linens have morphed from pink to white, while a few new pictures are entirely in keeping with the tenor of the place. But the essential design elements — Jean Pajet’s glorious murals of French provincial life, for instance — remain, thank goodness, so that both of the main restaurant rooms seem somehow fresher and brighter while retaining their rustic charm.
Alas, the pre-pandemic bread, beloved by generations of Crémaillère’s guests, is no more. But a house-made French bread, soft and yeasty with a good crust, is a pretty good alternative. I could butter up a roll with the restaurant’s Vermont creamery butter, pop the pea and saffron arancino that comes as an amuse-bouche, glug my glass of buttery Maçon-Solutré, Auvigue 2020 white Burgundy and go home contented.
But this, of course, is only the beginning. From the two, three or four-course prix-fixed menus, luxury ingredients galore spill out. Foie gras, truffles and lobster (which appears in both a salad and as the filling for sublime ravioli) may get the top billing, but incoming chef, Thomas Burke — who has put in valuable time with temples of gastronomy like French Laundry and Le Bernardin — is thoroughly comfortable with less exalted ingredients, too. A spring carrot and beet salad with hazelnuts, for example, arrives with aplomb, looking like a gilded coronet, its upward “prongs” a dramatic circle of burnished carrots set on a base of smooth, rich mascarpone. Watercress salad, too, although it sounds prosaic on paper, is a winner. It comes complete with radish, crispy shallots and an ambrosial avocado mousse, looking pretty as a picture, punching well above its weight.
In Chef Burke’s kitchen, corners are never cut. A slab of Hudson Valley foie gras, for example, comes with toasted, house-made brioche, just as it should, while a celery root purée and glossy duck jus are just what a Long Island duck breast needs to lift it from the ordinary into something luxurious. This attention to detail informs the menu throughout, sprinkled as it is with extravagant sauces and elaborate, traditional techniques. Doesn’t your heart give a little flutter of joy when you read words like soubise, the velvety onion sauce that comes with the Niman Ranch Prime New York strip, or gribiche, that heavenly mayonnaise made from hard-boiled eggs and served with La Crém’s steak tartare? I know mine does.
Add to all this heavy silverware, carts for tableside gueridon service, a magnificent silver duck press (sadly not currently in use) and the presentation of dishes under gleaming silver cloches, and no matter how much of a modern diner you are, it’s hard not to be smitten. (I’m a sucker for the goblets and silver butter dishes, too, and even the throwback paper doilies give me a little frisson of a delight and the sense of a rather wonderful night out.)
The wait staff, meanwhile, formal in a uniform of white shirt and gray vest, patrols the room, always ready to approach the table at the upward tilt of a head or a raised eyebrow while never intruding.
As we get stuck into our starters, late diners that we are, a party from the second-floor private room comes downstairs and files past our corner table to exit the restaurant — silver-haired gentlemen in monogramed shirts and blazers, the women in Chanel, teetering on reed-thin Louboutin heels. You could come to La Crém on a Saturday night in Prada and a decent pair of flats and still feel underdressed with this crowd. But with dress codes now relaxed, you could equally show up in jeans and a polo shirt and feel like a million dollars. After all, it’s how we see ourselves, not how other see us, right?
La Crém’s wine list, while not given away, isn’t so absurdly priced that you wince when ordering. There are even some bargains to be found, especially among the white Burgundies and large format Bordeaux reds, which always lend a touch of class to any celebratory dinner. But then, La Crémaillère — which, not coincidentally, is French for “house-warming” — is just the place for celebrations. Indeed, if my recent visit is anything to go by, every night is going to be a party here.
For more, visit lacremny.com.
Enjoying La Crémaillère at Greenwich Polo Club
If you’re a fan of Greenwich Polo Club, then you know that Peter Orthwein has been one of its mainstays. So it’s no surprise that he would help combine two of his loves — La Crémaillère and Greenwich Polo — in a Sunday brunch at the club. The $65 prix-fixe menu features three courses, with such starters as pâté de campagne, oysters, smoked salmon rillette and steak tartare, while entrées include Jonah crab Benedict, brioche French toast, grilled Faroe Island salmon, steak au poivre and a Niman Ranch beef burger with triple cream cheese, crispy shallots and truffle aioli. Dessert options range from strawberries and cream mille-feuille to crème brûlée and a passion fruit crepe.
Matches take place at 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 11, with the gates opening at 1 p.m. Admission starts at $50 per car. For more, visit greenwichpoloclub.com.